Shark conservation in Indonesia
A new type of marine protected area is spreading around the globe: sharks sanctuaries. Created with the aim to protect the shark population from illegal fishing, they have become an attraction for divers of any age, who travel to dive with these magnificent predators. Tropical countries such as Palau, Maldives and Bahamas have put a lot of effort in shark conservation and have converted their territorial waters into safe havens for shark species, resulting in an increase of the shark population and, consequently, of the diving tourism. The profits of this industry have become an incentive to consecrate large marine areas to the specific protection of these ancient and elegant creatures, which are critically endangered worldwide. The shark trade represents a big and profitable market; shark fins are the main ingredient of the traditional Chinese shark fin soup, and their meat is extensively used as filler for fish frozen products in Western countries.
“One shark is worth less than 100 dollars, but free sharks are worth thousands. The numbers are baffling: Bahamas has made over 800 million dollars in just 20 years from shark diving. People want to see them alive and swim with them.” Lauren Sparks, a conservationist, said. Lauren volunteers for the Global Fin Project, a comprehensive data collection program on the world’s shark population and she recently arrived in the Gili islands to assess the local situation. This will allow the team of international international marine biologists who lead this project to understand to what extent sharks in the area are endangered. In fact, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reports that one third of open ocean shark species are in the risk of extinction.
Indonesia is the world’s top shark fisher country; there is no specific regulation protecting sharks and their market value is high. Although there are hundreds of Marine Protected Areas scattered in the archipelago, none are specifically dedicated to shark conservation. In Bali area, 20,057 hectares of ocean waters around the 3 islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are an MPA; another important MPA close-by comprises the area around the Gili islands, just off Lombok’s North-West tip. MPAs provide different levels of protection depending on how they are established. Thanks to shark conservation efforts, the MPAs in the Gili islands is becoming a safe haven for shark species and a great diving spot where to swim with sharks in the open ocean.
“The MPA around the Gilis is the example that protecting areas only works if there are individuals and organizations raising awareness locally”, Lauren explained. In fact, , with the support of many dive shops, organizations such as the Gili Eco Trust and the Gili Shark Foundation carry out data-collection dives and, in collaboration with Bali Sharks, regularly organize the release of sharks that have been rescued from the fishermen. Since the first shark release in July 2013, more and more dive shops have joined the organizations’ shark adoption program aimed at raising funds to support shark releases. The Gili Eco Trust reports that 80% of the Open Water courses in Indonesia happen in the Gilis; creating a shark sanctuary would further protect this environment and attract more nature-lovers, making locals realise that sharks are worth more alive and free.
Beside being number 1 on the list of the world’s shark fishers, Indonesia is also undoubtedly one of the world’s best diving destinations. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to its diving sites to appreciate its diverse marine biodiversity; diving tourism and related activities account for a great share of the national revenue. Enforcing strict regulation on shark conservation and fishing would be a big blow to the global shark fin market and a big boost to the country’s economy.
Why is shark conservation important?
Sharks are apex predators and a key species in the food-chain of the marine environment. They maintain the health of the ocean by preying on a multitude of different species and by feeding on sick and injured animals. Their presence in the ocean guarantees that no single species overpopulates it.
What can you do?
Avoid eating shark meat (shark fin soups, seafood products with shark meat)
Do not purchase items that contain shark products (souvenirs, medicines, jewelry, etc.)
Take part in a data-collection dive!
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Published on Bali&Beyond