Sharks and Rays Gain More Protections in Pacific

At U.N. conference, Fiji and Samoa commit to add safeguards for imperiled species

Sharks and Rays Gain More Protections
Ocean Conference

Kosi Latu, left, director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and the author celebrate the announcement of shark protections by Fiji and Samoa at the U.N. Ocean Conference.

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Seeking to protect significant sources of tourism revenue that are also culturally and ecologically vital species, two Pacific island nations announced new commitments to safeguard sharks and rays in their waters. The announcement came during the June 5 to 9 U.N. Ocean Conference in New York.

As co-host of the conference, Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama said his government would develop a comprehensive shark and ray conservation regulation to ensure sustainable populations of shark and ray species in federal waters. Sharks play a significant role in Fiji’s ecotourism, adding US$42.2 million to the economy in 2012. They are also revered culturally: According to Fijian mythology, a shark god protects fishermen at sea.

Building on that momentum, Samoa committed to enhance the protection, conservation, and management of sharks, whales, dolphins, and turtles in the country’s exclusive economic zone. Samoa also recognized the importance of sharks to its heritage and marine biodiversity, and pledged to work with partners, including Pew’s global shark conservation campaign, to review regulations and incorporate new protections for sharks.

Over the past few years, Fiji has become a global leader on shark and ray conservation, setting an example for countries in the Pacific region. In 2014, the government proposed that the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) safeguard reef mantas and all species of mobula rays; the CMS approved that proposal, which encourages international action to properly manage and protect these species. And in 2016, Fiji was a lead proponent for listing all nine species of mobula rays under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires all trade in a species to be proved sustainable. Further, Fiji supported the 2016 CITES Appendix II listings of silky sharks and three species of thresher sharks.

School of Rays

Fiji successfully proposed trade regulations for all nine species of mobula ray at CITES in 2016.

© Shawn Heinrichs

Both Pew and Kosi Latu—director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, a multinational body charged with the protection and sustainable development of the region’s environment—congratulate Fiji on going beyond the CITES listings to take strong steps to provide conservation and management measures for all shark and ray species in Fiji. Pew began raising awareness on shark conservation in Fiji in 2011, and it is encouraging to see protection measures now in place.

Fiji sharks

Whitetip sharks hunt on a reef off Fiji.

© Cat Holloway

Pacific nations have demonstrated a solid commitment to shark and ray conservation. After Samoa’s declaration at the U.N. Ocean Conference, Pew encourages the island nation to join its neighbors Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia in establishing a shark sanctuary that bans commercial fishing for sharks within national waters.

Luke Warwick directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation program.