Marshall Islands creates world's biggest shark park

Jeremy Hance
October 03, 2011

The Republic of the Marshall Islands has created the world's biggest shark reserve: so large that all of Mexico could fit comfortably inside. With new legislation, commercial shark fishing is now completely banned in Marshall Islands' 768,547 square miles (1,990,530 square kilometers) of ocean.

The new shark sanctuary not only bans commercial fishing, but deems that sharks caught as by-catch must be released. In addition any sale of sharks or shark parts on the islands is now prohibited.

After several species of shark have been decimated by over-fishing, this year has seen unprecedented movement towards protecting sharks by establishing massive no-kill zones for sharks.

"The Marshall Islands have joined Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas and Tokelau in delivering the gold standard of protection for ensuring shark survival," said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, in a press release. Rand adds that "as leaders recognize the importance of healthy shark populations to our oceans, the momentum for protecting these animals continues to spread across the globe."

Over the past few decades some shark populations have fallen by over 90 percent. Rising demand for shark-fin soup is partially to blame. An increasingly popular Asian delicacy, shark-fin soup is exactly what its name suggests. Sharks are caught, their fins sawed off, and often the animals' bodies—sometimes still alive—are thrown back into the water. Shark-finning, as the practice is known, is estimated to have killed an average of 38 million sharks per year between 1996 and 2000.

The Marshall Islands new legislation includes stiff fines for those caught with shark fin (up to $200,000) and a ban on wire leaders, a type of fishing equipment that is particularly dangerous for sharks.

Even as shark populations are vanishing, researchers are beginning to understand their important economic role. A recent study in the Pacific nation of Palau found that a single reef shark is worth an estimated $1.9 million in tourism revenue over its life span. Killed for consumption the shark is worth $108, making the shark worth 17,000 times more alive than dead, not including other ecosystem services beyond tourism.

Related articles

California moves closer to banning shark fin trade

(09/07/2011) California moved a step closer to banning the sale and trade of shark fin with the passage Tuesday of Senate Bill 376. The bill, which passed 25-9, now goes the governor, whose approval would make the ban law. The bill was introduced to the California State Assembly February this year by Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).

Honduras protects sharks in all its waters

(06/26/2011) Endangered sharks are finding more sanctuaries. Honduras has announced that commercial shark fishing will be banned from its 92,665 square miles (240,000 square kilometers) of national waters. Honduras says the ban, which follows a moratorium on shark fishing, will bring in tourism revenue and preserve the marine environment.

Left alive and wild, a single shark worth $1.9 million

(05/02/2011) For the Pacific island nation of Palau, sharks are worth much more alive than dead. A new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has found that one reef shark during its full life is worth $1.9 million to Palau in tourism revenue. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead.

Jeremy Hance (October 03, 2011).

Marshall Islands creates world's biggest shark park.