From Green Right Now Reports
The war against sharks that has been decimating the ocean’s top predators worldwide (so that people can eat shark fin soup) has finally met an enemy that could help stop the bloodbath.
Today, authorities in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, set aside a shark sanctuary, the first of its kind in Indonesia, off the coast of these tourist-reliant islands.
The new Raja Ampat Shark Sanctuary will provide full protection for sharks, manta rays, mobulas, dugongs, and turtles within the boundaries of the sanctuary.
The edict also prohibits the destructive practice of “reef bombing” and aquarium fish trade.
The declaration is a victory for Shark Savers, an international shark conservation organization, which partnered with the local Misool Eco Resort (MER) to push for the protected region. The campaign won the support of over 8,500 divers and conservationists, and hundreds of tourism and diving companies and NGOs from around the world, according to the announcement Tuesday.
The sanctuary encompasses the entire 17,760 square miles of Raja Ampat, which is on the Northwestern tip of Indonesia, the largest island archipelago in the world.
Even for scuba divers, this is no ordinary area. The waters off Raja Ampat are among the most biologically diverse in the marine world, with 1,397 species of fish and over 600 species of coral recorded, according to the sanctuary supporters.
Both Raja Ampat residents and the region’s diving visitors have a stake in saving the shark. Without the top marine predator, ocean ecosystems could collapse or be radically changed.
“This new Shark Sanctuary owes its creation to thousands of ocean advocates who expressed the urgent need to protect sharks, mantas, and other marine life,” stated Michael Skoletsky, Executive Director of Shark Savers.
“Divers experience the oceans from the inside and are increasingly taking responsibility for ocean and shark conservation. Underwater ecotourism is a vital tool to counter the rampant exploitation of the world’s remaining sharks and bio-rich marine ecosystems.”
The effort had support from other groups, including Misool villages, WildAid and Coral Reef Alliance.
WildAid and Coral Reef Alliance had helped set up smaller general marine conservation areas in the region three years ago, which now lie within the shark sanctuary. Those groups report that they’ve already seen a shark rebound in the protected areas, will continue to help patrol the area, the costs of which are expected to be offset by tourism.
“Sharks are being killed for their fins, mantas are being killed for their gills, and rare reef fish are being caught for aquariums”, said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid.
“It’s tragic that so much of Raja Ampat’s biological treasure is destined for consumers who are unaware of the impact.”
Conservationists estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, with some shark populations declining by as much as 90%. The sharks are mainly being maimed and killed by hunters seeking their fins for shark fin soup.