Target: Dr. Hilda C. Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Goal: Increase enforcement of shark fishing bans in the Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary.
Grey reef sharks are the top predators of the coral reef systems they populate, and regulate local marine ecosystems. They are fierce hunters as well as sociable pack animals, working together to corral schools of fish. Despite the ecological importance of these reef sharks, they have recently been classified as “near threatened” due to human threats in the form of shark fishing and coral reef degradation. Unfortunately, there is a large market for shark fins to be used in shark fin soup and other products, so the illegal fishing of sharks is a profitable business, even in shark sanctuaries.
Recent data taken from the tracking tags implanted in grey reef sharks in the Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary shows that a substantial amount of illegal shark fishing is taking place in the sanctuary. As these reef sharks tend to stay in the shallow waters near their home reefs, the sudden movement of a group of shark tags towards known ports in the Philippines at a high speed indicates that these sharks have been killed.
The Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary was established in 2011 as the world’s largest shark sanctuary, covering nearly 800,000 square miles. In theory, the unprecedented scale of this sanctuary allows for the total protection of the grey reef shark as well as other local shark species and marine life. All shark fishing is prohibited within the boundaries of the sanctuary, and any sharks caught accidentally as bycatch must be immediately freed. Further, the sale of shark parts is illegal and carries heavy fines.
Despite these strict laws, extensive illegal shark fishing has been documented within the sanctuary due to lack of sufficient enforcement. The size and remote location of the sanctuary make it difficult to fully patrol, and illegal fishermen are taking advantage.
The Marshall Islands must increase enforcement of shark fishing bans within the sanctuary to protect local biodiversity and ecosystems. Sign the petition below to bring this issue to the attention of the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Dear Dr. Heine,
Grey reef sharks are a vital member of the coral reef ecosystem that dominates the oceans of the Marshall Islands. They keep the populations of larger fish low, so that smaller algae-eating fish are able to keep the coral clean and functional. Grey reef sharks are particularly affected by human activity due to their specific habitat requirements and low reproductive rates. Continued shark fishing and coral reef degradation have led to their conservation status being listed as “near threatened.”
The Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary was created to protect these sharks from commercial fishermen and ensure that local biodiversity doesn’t suffer. However, evidence shows that illegal shark fishing has continued in the sanctuary. Stronger methods of law enforcement are required to adequately protect the grey reef sharks.
Other sanctuaries facing similar issues have used various high-tech remote surveillance techniques and satellites to keep track of the tags implanted on the sharks. The Marshall Islands must consider this or other methods to effectively protect the sharks that call their sanctuary home.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Albert Kok