Friday, March 12, 2010

Sharks swim safe around the Maldives

Sharks that dwell in the Maldives can breathe a sigh of relief: the island nation has declared 90,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean a safe-haven for sharks, banning shark fishing as well as any trade in shark fins.

"The Maldives were one of the first countries to recognize that sharks were a key reason tourists went to dive there," said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. "Today’s announcement protects the Maldives’ tourism industry—the largest segment of their economy—from the ravages of the shark fin trade. It is a bold and farsighted move on the part of the government of the Maldives."

The protected waters are home to thirty species of shark, including the scalloped hammerhead and the oceanic whitetip, both of which are up for protection at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The IUCN Red List classifies the scalloped hammerhead as Endangered, and the oceanic whitetip as Vulnerable to extinction.

The Maldives, a popular tourist location, depends on its pristine beaches, coral reefs, and marine wildlife, such as sharks, for much of its tourism industry. Globally tourism focused on seeing sharks in the wild is a growing business.

"Countries are beginning to recognize just how important vibrant shark populations are to healthy ocean ecosystems, and to their ecotourism industries," explains Rand.

The trade for shark fin soup has devastated shark populations worldwide: sharks are caught, finned (whereby fishermen cuts off their fins), and then tossed overboard into the ocean to perish. It is estimated that 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins alone.

Currently, 32 percent of open ocean shark species are threatened with extinction.


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