With an estimated 97 million sharks being harvested each year, serious protection measures can’t come soon enough. In March, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, member nations took action. They agreed to list the oceanic whitetip shark, three species of hammerhead shark (scalloped, smooth, and great), the porbeagle shark, and both species of manta rays in CITES Appendix II, an action that means increased protection but that still allows legal and “sustainable” trade. Countries supporting the listing included Brazil, Colombia, the European Union, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Comoros, Egypt, the United States, and countries in West Africa, with opposition coming from Japan, Gambia, India, Grenada, and China. Sharks continue to be overharvested to meet Asian demand for shark fin soup and through bycatch; fishermen also catch some shark species for their meat, while others kill manta rays for their gill plates in support of the Chinese medicinal trade.
Says CORAL’s Conservation Programs Director Rick MacPherson, “The immediate outcome of the CITES listing for those species is that these seriously threatened sharks and rays can finally get some breathing room to recover. Of course CITES protections must be enforced or the designations are meaningless. But what these historic steps indicate is that short term financial interests don’t always trump long-term conservation vision.”
The Pew Charitable Trust’s Angelo Villagomez says CORAL’s and many other NGOs’ efforts undoubtedly contributed to the vote. “CITES decisions are not made by consensus, but by a vote. Fiji, Mexico, Honduras, and the United States were very supportive of the CITES shark proposals, and CORAL’s work on domestic campaigns in CITE S member countries surely played a part in that.”
The CITES decision comes as CORAL continues to push for greater shark protections in Fiji. CORAL has been publishing an ongoing series of editorials in the Fiji Sun, urging the government to adopt stronger standards, including a possible temporary moratorium on shark fishing, in its new National Plan of Action for Sharks. In late January, CORAL assisted the Fijian government and the Fiji Times in an investigation of the deaths of 27 baby scalloped hammerhead sharks on Nukulu Island.
And with Pew, our partners in this initiative, CORAL taught a “Pacific Shark School” in January in Suva. The school brought together shark conservation leaders from different islands and included a “Shark Biology 101” section and focused on strategies for conservation and work plans for each place.
“The most valuable part of the shark school was seeing how the training encouraged and inspired participants,” says Rick MacPherson. “It takes more than just ideas to succeed in conservation. It takes passionate and skilled professionals to bring home the win. The shark school was an exciting opportunity to unite shark conservationists across the Pacific who returned to their home campaigns with new tools and energy.”
Greater protection for sharks and rays is also on the way in Indonesia, where the Regency Government of Raja Ampat signed the shark and manta ray sanctuary it had designated back in 2010 into law. CORAL and many other NGOs—as well as CORAL’s partner, the Misool Eco Resort—have advocated for years for better shark protections in Indonesia. The law protects sharks and rays in 46,000 square kilometers (18,000 square miles) of ocean off the coast Raja Ampat. Sharks are starting to show signs of recovery in marine protected areas there.
Andrew Miners, Managing Director of the Misool Eco Resort, says the sanctuary “sends a clear signal to the national government that the destructive fishing of sharks and rays is extremely detrimental to Indonesia’s growing marine tourism industry and the local communities that are supported by it.” Manta ray tourism in Indonesia generates more than $15 million per year vs. three percent of that amount from a manta ray fishery.
CORAL is also working to create a network of locally managed protected marine areas in the Sunda-Banda region of Indonesia, which will benefit sharks and rays.
Could we do all this without you? Absolutely not! So thanks so much for your continued support.
Red lionfish—attractively striped but heavily armed with poisonous quills—were the focus of a fishing derby and cook-off sponsored by the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), Utila Chapter, in Honduras in late November. Native to the West Pacific and Indian Oceans, and Red Sea, red lionfish (Pterois volitans) were introduced into Caribbean waters about twenty years ago and have flourished there, outcompeting—and eating—native species.
CORAL helped plan and publicize the derby, in which twenty-two teams of divers participated. Over 350 lionfish were caught, says CORAL Field Representative Pamela Ortega, who helped fillet the fish for the cook-off on November 30. A few days later, CORAL and BICA staffed a booth at the Utila Food Festival, handing out responsible seafood guides and selling lionfish dishes. Says Pamela, “They have white flesh and a delicate flavor. They’re especially delicious in ceviche!"
This effort is part of a larger strategy employed within all of our Caribbean project sites to reduce these invasive predators by establishing a market demand for them. Last summer, our team presented a poster at the International Coral Reef Symposium on our work.
Officially speaking, the legislation that declared Cordelia Banks a “Site of Wildlife Importance” was signed in the landlocked Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. But the legislators actually made their decision far removed from their offices.
Last year, Jenny Myton, CORAL’s Honduras Field Manager, invited key government officials to visit Roatan. CORAL and our partners were seeking protections for Cordelia Banks and its healthy populations of endangered staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and she believed that the site would sell itself to these critical decision-makers—if only they could see it for themselves.
A delegation headed by Josè Antonio Galdames, the Vice-Minister for the National Institute of Forest Conservation and Development, Protected Areas, agreed to travel to Jenny and learn more about this unique spot off of Roatan’s coast.
Before they could boat out to Cordelia and jump in the water, however, the group—with varying levels of swimming skills—took two weeks to learn how to snorkel and scuba dive. Eventually, all obtained their open water and advanced diver certifications.
Sure enough, when the Vice-Minister and his six colleagues descended into Cordelia’s shallow waters, they became some of its biggest advocates.
“You could see that they really got it,” Jenny said of the group’s eye-opening dive. “That experience did more for Cordelia than a hundred committee meetings in Tegucigalpa would have.”
The legislation, signed in May, is a critical first step toward managing and safeguarding one of the most spectacular natural resources on the Mesoamerican Reef. CORAL and our partners in Honduras are now seeking similar protections for the reefs off the mainland city of Tela.
“Despite having lived for many years in Roatan, I never had the opportunity to see Cordelia Banks,” Vice-Minister Galdames said. “It was through the perseverance of Jenny and Ian Drysdale [Jenny’s husband and fellow reef expert] that I was finally . . . able to see how beautiful it was and, at the same time, recognize the serious problems affecting our oceans.”
Political dives have a whole new meaning now!
Notebooks developed as part of our Sharks for the Future campaign are helping to write a more promising future for Indonesia’s sharks--and it's reefs. Lined writing paper is sandwiched between smaller versions of the eye-catching posters developed to promote the campaign; these notebooks both help get the message out about the importance of sharks and give the students of Raja Ampat a much needed educational tool.
As is the case in many remote or impoverished regions, school supplies can be difficult to come by in Raja Ampat. So, when developing our shark conservation plan, I made a point to include educational resources for the kids. All students who participated in the art and writing contests we recently held will receive these notebooks and a bookmark, both featuring images and messages about the need for shark conservation. Additional notebooks will be distributed over the next month to even more students.
Sharks and their reef homes will benefit from the heightened awareness, and the students will benefit from our conservation strategy. It’s a definite win-win!
It’s well before dawn and Barie Jackson is already hard at work. Barie is the Patrol Coordinator at the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) in Honduras, and this morning he’s racing down a ten kilometer stretch of coastline in search of reported spear fishers off the island’s western end.
Roatan is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. The once little-known destination has seen independent tourism skyrocket and cruise ship visitation more than quadruple over the past decade, overwhelming the island’s infrastructure and stressing the fragile ecosystem. That’s why protected areas like the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve, which encompasses about twenty square kilometers (nearly eight square miles) of Roatan’s nearshore waters, are so critical.
Four full-time park rangers regularly patrol Roatan's protected areas. These patrol officers partner with national police to prevent illegal fishing, avert mangrove damage from coastal development, and ensure the safety of marine recreational users. “The police provide our patrols with the muscle to enforce the regulations,” explains Barie.
Born and raised on Roatan, Barie’s instincts for this kind of work are spot-on. He’s innately aware of the favorite haunts for marine critters as well as illegal fishers. As a young child, he dreamed of becoming a police officer, drawn to the order, execution, and level of respect associated with the position. Now, Barie says, he’s found his "dream job." As a park ranger with the RMP, he is able to interact with people, uphold the law, and protect the place he grew up.
Thanks to several recent grants from CORAL, Barie and his team have a new suite of tools to help them protect the preserve’s underwater ecosystem. At the end of 2011, the RMP staff partnered with marine protected area management experts—including CORAL—to renovate the RMP’s patrol system. The team created a host of new tools ranging from a quick reference waterproof guide to Honduran marine law, to case-specific reporting forms, and a comprehensive electronic database of criminal activities within the park. Additionally, the patrol team is now equipped with four fully operational boats, as well as a spare engine to reduce down-time. These new resources allow the four patrol officers to more effectively monitor three key areas: Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve, Cordelia Banks, and a ten kilometer stretch between Dixon Cove and Jonesville.
“The new materials have helped greatly in training new officers and Park Rangers,” says Barie. “They are also extremely useful when informing tourists or suspects of regulations.”
According to Nic Bach, Director of Communications and Marine Infrastructure for the RMP, access to these resources assists both RMP’s patrol team—and the national police they partner with—in more effectively monitoring Roatan’s waters. “The new management resources and expanded patrol fleet help us better understand and enforce the rules and regulations governing the RMP, and better communicate with the police and other parties involved,” he states.
The comprehensive management system, supported by access to necessary resources such as boats, is a replicable model for successful stewardship of marine protected areas along the Mesoamerican Reef. Thank you for your support of this project!
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Asst. Director of Development