Chondrichthyes – sharks, rays and chimaeras – belong to the evolutionary oldest inhabitants of the ocean. For more than 400 million years, the ancestors of the shark species known today are playing important roles in their ecosystems. Most shark species are top-predators controlling the populations of smaller fish, mollusks and crustaceans. Sharks are very important for the health of their ecosystems because they preferentially prey on weak and sick individuals. Apart from that they keep the natural balance of the ecosystem by preventing single fish species to proliferate faster than the ecosystem could take. Due to this so-called “top-down-control” they, e.g. avoid algae blooms that might overgrow coral reefs and prevent the zooxanthella from conducting photosynthesis. Strikingly healthy and species-rich coral reefs are often proof of an intact population of sharks.

The problem

Unfortunately, the shark populations have declined worldwide during the last decades. Scientists believe that only 10 % of the original shark stocks still exist. A large proportion of sharks have been decimated by the illegal shark finning industry. In China and Taiwan, for example, it is a status symbol to serve shark fin soup during special occasions such as weddings. Billions of US $ are spent for shark fins every year with Hong Kong being responsible for the import of 50-85% of the shark fins produced worldwide. In addition to the trade with shark fins, pelagic sharks are caught as by-catch in gillnets and industrial longlines. This and the shark finning industry contributed to the fact that 32% of the pelagic species of sharks and rays were listed as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) already in the year 2007 (IUCN, 2007). Among these species are hammerheads, white sharks, whale sharks and mako sharks. A large proportion of the shark fins imported to Hong Kong and Taiwan comes from Southeast Asian countries. With more than 120 000 tons, Indonesia is the country with the biggest amount of yearly landed sharks worldwide (IUCN, 2007).

Because many shark species are migrating and spend most of their life in international waters, it is difficult to apply sufficient regulations for the conservation of sharks. There are different agreements – e.g., CITES, CMS, UNCLOS, IPOA-sharks, UNFSA – creating a legal basis for the protection of sharks. However, these must be accepted as guidelines by the shark fishing nations. Within the zone of 200 nm, each nation can decide about catch rates and prohibitions of catch itself. So far, only Israel and Palau have totally banned shark fishing. By now, finning is prohibited in Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, South Africa, Seychelles, Spain, the United States and in some regions of Australia. Therefore, controlling shark catches nationally and internationally is a big challenge. On the local scale, however, there are realistic and financially possible ways of protecting sharks. The best option is shark sanctuaries covering mating grounds and the areas where juvenile sharks have the chance to grow up in protection. These areas are often located close to the shore and are easy to control even with small boats. This technique is also realistic for large shark catching nations such as Indonesia. The local human population is often interested in protecting their own waters. With the right education and some financial support, it is possible to establish shark sanctuaries this way. A successful example is the declaration of Raja Ampat, Westpapua, as a shark protection zone in 2010. This was achieved by the initiative of Shark Savers (www.sharksavers.org), Conservation international, the Nature Conservancy, the Misool Eco Resort (www.misoolecoresort.com) and the support of more than 8000 shark enthusiasts.

One of the primary goals of Banda Sea e.V. is to extend the existing marine park in Banda to a marine protected area network in which catching of sharks will be prohibited and controlled. The most common pelagic shark species in Banda is the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini, one of the 5 shark species declared as protected species in Indonesia since 2013. Due to the relatively small area, controlling landings of larger sharks is quite manageable around Banda. This makes Banda one of the first destinations in Indonesia where the new regulation is applicable. Therefore, Banda Sea e.V. can contribute a little bit but directly towards survival of this fascinating species.

One of the primary goals of Banda Sea e.V. is to extend the existing marine park in Banda to a marine protected area network in which catching of sharks will be prohibited and controlled. The most common pelagic shark species in Banda is the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini, one of the 5 shark species declared as protected species in Indonesia since 2013. Due to the relatively small area, controlling landings of larger sharks is quite manageable around Banda. This makes Banda one of the first destinations in Indonesia where the new regulation is applicable. Therefore, Banda Sea e.V. can contribute a little bit but directly towards survival of this fascinating species.

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