palau economic zone, graphic(Blue Ocean Network – June 2, 2010) –With half of the world’s sharks threatened with extinction, Palau created the world’s first “shark sanctuary” in 2009. One of the smallest nation’s in the world, Palau declared its entire Exclusive Economic Zone a shark sanctuary that protects about 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles) of ocean, an area about the size of France. Conservationists regarded the move as “game-changing” but enforcement is a problem due to the high demand for prestigious shark fin soup.

Although Palau’s shark fishing law which carries a $250,000 US fine for fishing, mutilation and transport of sharks in Palau waters, shark fishing remains a highly lucrative business, especially with the demand in parts of Asia – and China in particular – for shark fin soup.  In Palau waters, there are more than 70 foreign fishing vessels, many of them operating illegally. Recognizing that enforcement is a problem, with only one patrol boat at its disposal, the Palau Shark Sanctuary recently sought the assistance of the Surveillance and Enforcement of Remote Marine Areas. SERMA has brought to light a range of surveillance technical options that could be considered to help Palau man its EEZ even with one patrol boat at hand. happening on the water.

About Palau

palauPalau, a collection of 200 scattered islands located about 2000 miles south of Tokyo, has only 20,000 inhabitants, but its territorial waters are far greater than much more populous nations. A diving and snorkeling hot spot, Palau derives most of its income from marine tourism, making sharks a big attraction for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Dermot Kean, who runs Sam’s Tours, a popular dive shop in Palau, began the Shark Sanctuary initiative in 2001.  Keane says its common to see carcasses of sharks which have been stripped of their fins and thrown back into the sea by illegal fishermen.

“Palau has a pretty healthy shark population, but a lot of them are getting killed off. This sanctuary is the first step in the right direction,”says Keane.

The President of the tiny Pacific republic, Johnson Toribiong, announced the establishment of the sanctuary in September 2009 at the UN General Assembly. Recognizing that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year around the world, President Toribiong also called for a global ban on shark-finning, the practice of removing the fins at sea.

“Not all nations consider shark fins as delicacies. And we feel that the need to protect the sharks outweighs the need to enjoy a bowl of soup,” said President Toribiong.

Shark fishing has grown rapidly since the mid-1980s, driven by a rising demand — mainly in China, where shark fin soup has become a marker for wealth. While some shark fishing is legal, much is illegal driven by the demand for shark fins. Because of their long life spans and low fertility rates, sharks are vulnerable to overfishing.

The sanctuary shelters more than 130 species of sharks – including hammerheads, leopard sharks, oceanic sharks and white and black tip reef sharks, as well as stingrays, all of which are considered either endangered or vulnerable.

Additional Sources:  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6848627.ece