Marshall Islands Declares World’s Largest Shark Sanctuary

The Marshall Islands is now home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary, an area of the central Pacific Ocean four times the size of California, The Pew Environment Group confirmed in a news announcement today. (Read the full announcement.)

The Washington-based conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit that works globally to establish pragmatic, science-based policies that protect the oceans, said the Nitijela, the Parliament of the Marshalls, passed legislation unanimously last week that ends commercial fishing of sharks in all 1,990,530 square kilometers (768,547 square miles) of the central Pacific country’s waters, an ocean area four times the landmass of California.

“We salute the Republic of the Marshall Islands for enacting the strongest legislation to protect sharks that we have seen,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, which is spearheading efforts to establish shark sanctuaries, where targeted fishing for these species is prohibited. “As leaders recognize the importance of healthy shark populations to our oceans, the momentum for protecting these animals continues to spread across the globe.”

The tropical atolls, reefs, and islets of The Marshall Islands  include Enewetak, where the United States exploded the first hydrogen bomb in 1952. Bikini Atoll is still uninhabitable because of past nuclear tests.

According to The Pew Environment’s statement, the key provisions of the Marshall Islands’ new law include:

  • A complete prohibition on the commercial fishing of sharks as well as the sale of any sharks or shark products. Its zero retention stipulation requires that any shark caught accidently by fishing vessels must be set free.
  • Large monetary fines, anywhere between U.S.$25,000 to U.S.$200,000, for anyone who is found to be fishing sharks or in possession of shark fins. In addition, violators would be fined the market value of the product in their possession.
  • A ban on the use of wire leaders, a longline fishing gear which is among the most lethal to sharks.
  • A monitoring and enforcement provision which requires all fishing vessels to land their catch at one of the country’s ports and bans at sea transfers.

The Pew Environment added: “Last week’s action was initiated in March of this year when the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority issued a moratorium on the shark trade. It was furthered in June, when President Jurelang Zedkaia joined other central Pacific leaders in setting the stage for the creation of a Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, the first regional shark conservation agreement of its kind. In July, the Marshall Islands Mayors Association moved to make this vision a reality by passing a resolution that called on the 24 inhabited atolls throughout the Marshalls, each with its own local government, to enact ordinances prohibiting the sale and trade of sharks or shark fins.”

“Ours may be a small island nation, but our waters are now the biggest place sharks are protected.”

“In passing this bill, there is no greater statement we can make about the importance of sharks to our culture, environment and economy,” said Senator Tony deBrum, a representative from Kwajalein Atoll who is a bill cosponsor. “I thank President Jurelang Zedkaia for his vision and support for this effort. Ours may be a small island nation, but our waters are now the biggest place sharks are protected. We hope other Micronesian leaders will join with us to make good on our collective promise of a regional sanctuary.”

“The Marshall Islands have joined Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas and Tokelau in delivering the gold standard of protection for ensuring shark survival,” Rand said in The Pew Environment statement. “We look forward to helping other countries enlist in this cause.”

Related Blog Post: Reef Sharks Generate Millions of Tourist Dollars for Palau

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

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Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn