underwater photographer, whale shark, marine life, conservation, ocean activistThe Maldives’ nation continues to be a frontrunner in environmental activism with their latest announcement that offers complete protection for sharks in its  90,000 sq.kms (34,750 sq.miles) of Maldives territorial waters. The huge shark sanctuary will be free of all shark fishing and finning, protecting more than 30 different species that make their home in the region. The Maldives has further banned all imports and exports of shark fins and shark products.

“The Maldives were one of the first countries to recognize that sharks were a key reason tourists went to dive there,” said Matt Rand, Director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Today’s announcement protects the Maldives’ tourism industry – the largest segment of their economy – from the ravages of the shark fin trade. It is a bold and farsighted move on the part of the government of the Maldives.”

Sharks are worth much more to the Maldives as a live tourist draw than as meat or shark fin exports. Pew estimates that the Maldives beaches and coral atolls contribute to more than 28% of the Maldives’ GDP.

The Maldivian cabinet decided that the ban on trade and export of sharks and shark products will come into effect on 1 July 2010, whereas the decision to ban shark hunting in the Maldives will be effective as of 1 March 2010. It was further decided that the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture would assist shark fishermen to find alternative livelihoods.

The first shark sanctuary was declared in September 2009 by the republic of Palau, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles / 800 kilometers east of the Philippines. Palau’s territorial waters span more than 230,000 square miles / 600,000 square kilometers.