The Marshall Islands, a small archipelago nation in the central Pacific Ocean, is celebrating its first anniversary of establishing the world’s largest shark sanctuary. The Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary spans 1,990,530 square kilometers (768,547 square miles) – nearly four times the landmass of California. Within the sanctuary, commercial fishing of all sharks is prohibited.
Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually by people, according to the Pew Environmental Group. Most of these are casualties of shark finning – the fins are cut off to sell for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy.
About a third of ocean shark species have been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as threatened with extinction on a global scale.
Tourism, including diving, is a staple of the Marshall Islands archipelago, which is home to just 68,000 people. The sanctuary has enhanced tourism through highlighting the shark-diving industry. Research shows that sharks can contribute more value to the local economy as a tourism resource, than through fishing. The shark protection measures have also helped the area’s overall marine biodiversity by restricting access to fishing vessels.
Key provisions of the Marshall Islands’ law include:
- A complete prohibition of the commercial fishing of sharks, and the sale of sharks and shark products.
- Any shark caught accidentally by fishing vessels must be set free.
- Large fines are imposed (US$25,000 to US$200,000) for the fishing of sharks or being in possession of shark fins.
- A ban on the use of types of longline fishing gear, which is among the most lethal to sharks.
Map Courtesy of the Pew Environmental Group
Guam Senator Carlotta Leon Guerrero, who was instrumental in establishing the shark sanctuary in 2011, reports that the ban is working because the people support it. There have been successful prosecutions resulting in fines of more than $200,000 since the sanctuary was designated, exceeding the cost to law enforcement agencies for implementation.
The Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary serves as a successful model for other countries interested in protecting marine diversity.