Dispatches from Fiji

Dispatches from Fiji

On a recent trip to Fiji, Pew's Angelo O'Connor Villagomez participated in a three-day workshop to educate nonprofit leaders on the best ways to advocate for shark conservation and visited a school to discuss Shark Stanley and the work being done to raise awareness about the importance of sharks to ocean ecosystems. Learn more about his trip and view photos of conservationists at work in this edition of Pew's Dispatches series.

Pacific Shark School: Building Local Capacity for Shark Conservation Abroad

By Angelo O'Connor Villagomez

Efforts to conserve sharks have spread rapidly across the Pacific in the past few years. Palau declared full protections for sharks in 2009, and Tokelau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands have established shark sanctuaries since then. Every U.S. state and territory in the tropical Pacific also has taken steps to limit trade in shark fins from their shores.

As these protections have come into force, The Pew Charitable Trusts has worked with government and nonprofit organization partners to implement the new laws. Last year, Pew sponsored a marine enforcement training in the Marshall Islands and a shark-fin identification training with fisheries officers in Fiji. We also worked with the Palauan government and the Micronesian Shark Foundation to enforce shark protections in the Southwest Islands of Palau, resulting in the apprehension of two illegal fishing vessels.

In addition, we are working with countries interested in implementing new shark conservation measures. Although countries in the Pacific have distinct histories, languages, and cultures, they are similar in many ways. Conservationists working in one jurisdiction often deal with similar issues as those living in another. They can learn from one another, but distance and communication limitations can make connecting difficult, even in the digital age.

This was the inspiration behind the Pacific Shark School, a three-day workshop that took place at the end of January in Suva, Fiji. Policy and shark conservation experts from Saipan, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, and the United States met to share experiences from protection efforts in their islands. The workshop was also an opportunity to teach nonprofit organization leaders how to advocate for stronger shark management and conservation measures and how to accomplish policy changes at home.

Shark School 1

Senior staff of the San Francisco-based Coral Reef Alliance, our partner in Fiji, joined Pew shark conservation experts Angelo Villagomez and Jen Sawada in organizing the workshop. Topics included shark ecology and ecotourism economy, regional and international shark management efforts, and campaign strategy.

Shark School 2

“It takes more than just ideas to succeed in conservation,” said Rick MacPherson, the alliance's conservation programs director. “It takes passionate and skilled professionals to bring home the win. Pacific Shark School is an exciting opportunity to unite shark conservationists across the Pacific to network, build content and strategy, and return to their home campaigns with new tools and energy.”

Shark School 3

Although participants agreed that more action is needed at the regional level, little has been done to date by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which was established to prevent overfishing and protect fish stocks and habitat. At its last meeting, a proposal to reduce shark bycatch was defeated, and the commission could be years away from comprehensive shark management.

Shark School 4

Until scientific catch limits in this region are set that take into consideration sharks' unique biology, it will be up to individual countries–and the people who attended Pacific Shark School–to help implement measures protecting sharks within their jurisdictions. 

Shark Stanley Lands in Fiji

By Angelo O'Connor Villagomez

The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners are working to promote “Shark Stanley,” a student-led outreach effort to raise awareness of the need for action to protect sharks and manta rays at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Thailand in March.

Participants in this campaign cut out the image of Shark Stanley, take a photo, and post it on such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each serves as a “photo signature” and represents a conversation that has taken place on the importance of protecting sharks.

We all know sharks are highly migratory species, but I've been astonished to see that since the effort was launched Dec. 17, 2012, Shark Stanley and his friends have been photographed in 95 countries. It is one of several ways Pew is working to encourage public support for CITES action to protect sharks.

CITES is widely recognized as one of the most effective and best-enforced international conservation agreements. By addressing the trade of more than 30,000 species, it has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of numerous plants and animal species. At the upcoming meeting, governments will vote on proposed protections for three shark species (porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, and hammerhead) and for manta rays.

One recent morning, I took Shark Stanley to the Suva Multi-Intelligence School in Fiji, where I thought I would be making a presentation on sharks. To my surprise, I was treated to a play about shark conservation in Fiji that the kids wrote, directed, and performed!

Shark Stanley 1

Afterward, we spent time taking photos with Shark Stanley and his friends—Manta Reina, Pierre le Porbeagle, and Waqi Whitetip.

Shark Stanley 2

These photos will be used to represent the voices of the young people of Fiji who want sharks protected, and they will be added to the global “Shark Stanley” petition calling on CITES member governments to support the proposals on sharks and manta rays. 

Shark Stanley 3

Media Contact: Rachel Brittin

Topics: Oceans, Environment

Project: Global Shark Conservation