Kiribati Announces World’s Second Largest Shark Sanctuary

The Pacific is now home to eight sanctuaries

Kiribati shark sanctuary

Kiribati is the eighth island nation to establish a shark sanctuary in the Pacific, acknowledging the economic and ecosystem value that healthy shark populations provide.

© Steve de Neef

This analysis was updated on Nov. 30, 2016 to correct the spelling of St. Maarten.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati announced the creation of the world’s second largest shark sanctuary this month in the country’s national waters in the central Pacific Ocean.

The regulation that governs the sanctuary, announced by Vice President Kourabi Nenem on Nov. 18, bans all commercial shark fishing within Kiribati’s 3.4 million-square-kilometer (1.3 million-square-mile) exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area larger than India. It also bans the possession, trade, and sale of sharks and shark products, as well as the use of wire leaders, the fishing gear that is often used to catch them. Kiribati is the eighth island nation to establish a shark sanctuary in the Pacific, acknowledging the economic and ecosystem value that healthy shark populations provide.

Kiribati’s sanctuary expands the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, completed in 2015, to more than 9 million square kilometers (3.5 million square miles). In all, 15 shark sanctuaries now provide more than 19 million square kilometers (7.34 million square miles) of ocean free of commercial shark fishing—an area bigger than South America. The largest sanctuary is in French Polynesia.

The announcement came at the end of a weeklong workshop on enforcing shark sanctuaries that was hosted by the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“The establishment of the shark sanctuary will bring our ministries and relevant stakeholders together to protect sharks from threats such as illegal fishing, and will allow us to enforce regulations to ensure the survival of sharks in our exclusive economic zone,” said Tetabo Nakara, Kiribati’s minister of fisheries and marine resources development.

Kiribati’s decision adds to a string of successes for global shark protection efforts. In June, St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands closed their EEZs to all commercial shark fishing. And in October, silky sharks and three species of thresher sharks were added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which requires that any trade of these sharks be proved sustainable. With continued protections through international treaties and national legislation, depleted shark populations are receiving the help they badly need to recover.

Jen Sawada is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation project.

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