ROAD TOWN: The British Virgin Islands has moved to establish a permanent shark sanctuary in its waters.
The designation by the cabinet of the British overseas territory last week prohibits commercial fishing of all shark and rays species throughout the full exclusive economic zone. That area amounts to 80,117 square kilometers (30,933 square miles). The designation also bans the sale and trade of sharks and shark products within the territory.
Many threatened or near-threatened shark species, including the oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, tiger and Caribbean reef sharks swim in the waters off theBritish Virgin Islands.
Worldwide, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species says that more than half of all sharks and shark-like species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction.
The decision fulfills the commitment made by the territory’s premier, Dr. Orlando Smith, during a 2013 meeting of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative on regional protections for sharks. The British Virgin Islands now joins theBahamasas the onlyCaribbeangovernments to implement these types of measures.
“Our people are committed to sustainably managing our resources,” said Dr. Kedrick Pickering, deputy premier and minister for natural resources and labour of the BVI. “We recognize that sharks are important to our oceans and our reefs and that the best way to manage their populations is to let them fulfill their ecological role as apex predators.”
In addition to theBritish Virgin Islands, the Caribbean Challenge Initiative is made up of island governments dedicated to a shared vision and course of action for the region’s marine and coastal health. Other members include theBahamas, theDominican Republic,Grenada,Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts & Nevis,St. Luciaand St. Vincent & theGrenadines. The parties have committed to establishing regional shark protections by May 2015.
“We applaud theBritish Virgin Islandsfor protecting its valuable shark populations,” said Imogen Zethoven, director of global shark conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “It is our hope that the leadership demonstrated here will reverberate throughout theCaribbean.”
TheBritish Virgin Islandsis home to some of the region’s most impressive reefs. Sharks play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ocean environment. As top predators, they regulate the variety and abundance of species in the food web, including commercially important fish species. Sharks also help to maintain healthy marine habitats, such as coral reefs.
The loss of sharks could cause irreversible damage to the ocean and economic activities that benefit from these habitats. The establishment of the shark sanctuary helps strengthen the region’s marine ecosystem and secure industries that depend on a healthy ocean.