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Kiribati establishes world’s second largest shark sanctuary

Kiribati establishes world’s second largest shark sanctuary

The Pew Charitable Trusts applauded the Pacific island nation of Kiribati today for its establishment of the world’s second largest shark sanctuary.

The legislation bans commercial fishing throughout the sanctuary, which covers the country’s entire 3.4 million-square-kilometer (1.3 million-square-mile) exclusive economic zone—an area larger than India—and also expands the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary.

The possession, trade, and sale of sharks and shark products are also prohibited throughout the sanctuary, as is the use of fishing gear typically used to target sharks, such as wire leaders.

Vice President Kourabi Nenem made the announcement at the end of a five-day workshop on shark sanctuary enforcement. The meeting was hosted by the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development, Pew, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, with participation from the Pacific Islands Marine Protected Areas Community and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

“The Kiribati shark sanctuary is a safeguard of our culture,” said Vice President Nenem. “Protecting our ocean means protecting the sharks that belong in our waters to maintain the health of our ocean and the marine living resources which Kiribati depends on for economic food and security of its people.”

Luke Warwick, director of Pew’s global shark conservation campaign, said, “Sanctuaries are one way governments can ensure that we protect sharks for generations to come.

“We hope that the shark sanctuary in Kiribati will inspire other Pacific islands to take action in their waters so that sharks and rays are offered the strong protections they need to survive,” he added.

Worldwide, about 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries. Nearly 30 percent of all known shark species assessed by scientists are now threatened with extinction. Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they mature and reproduce slowly.

Many Pacific island nations have established shark sanctuaries, recognizing the valuable ecosystem and economic roles that healthy shark populations provide. Momentum for protecting sharks in the region began in 2009, when Palau designated its shark sanctuary. In 2015, the first regional sanctuary in Micronesia was created with the cooperation of Palau; the Marshall Islands; the Federated States of Micronesia and its four states, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap; and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. With Kiribati, there are now 15 shark sanctuaries globally covering more than 19 million square kilometers (7.34 million square miles) of ocean, an area larger than South America.

The announcement of the sanctuary follows the decision last month by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to add 13 shark and mobula ray species to its Appendix II, a step that ensures sustainable and legal trade of these species. “The recent progress in global shark management in adopting CITES listings, which had Pacific leadership from Fiji, has continued with creation of the Kiribati shark sanctuary,” Pew’s Warwick said. “This shows that global action is taking place to build shark and ray protections, and Pacific conservationists have been leaders.”

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