French Polynesia recently became the site of the world’s largest shark sanctuary. As sharks play an important role in Polynesian culture, this is a landmark decision to not only protect the sharks, but to protect cultural heritage as well.
Encompassing more than 4.7 million square kilometers (1.8 million square miles) of ocean, this is double the size of the six existing sanctuaries. The announcement was made at the December 6 meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Manila, Philippines.
Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group said, “There is growing awareness around the world of the threats facing sharks and the need to protect them. In the past few months alone, American Samoa and the Micronesian state of Kosrae have put an end to shark fishing, and the European Union and Venezuela have banned shark finning. And recently, protections for whale sharks were enacted through the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
“However, as sharks are threatened throughout much of the world’s oceans and there is a great need to protect them before they slip below levels from which they may never recover. It’s now up to countries around the world to build on this recent success and ensure a sustainable future for sharks.”
By establishing the sanctuary, French Polynesia has closed shark fishing permanently in its waters. Conservation measures have been updated to include mako sharks, which were not covered by the previous 2006 moratorium. Makos are fished for their fins and meat.
With more than 21 species of sharks in sanctuary area, the great hammerheads and oceanic whitetips, which are listed as Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List are now being proposed for protection under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Each year, up to 73 million sharks are killed, primarily to support the global shark fin trade.