In a bold new move, Palau’s President, Johnson Toribiong, is establishing a precedent setting shark sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean surrounding the 200 islands that comprise the territory of Palau. The sanctuary will safeguard sharks from commercial fishing within a 600,000 square km radius.
President Toribiong announced this ground breaking news at the UN General Assembly on Friday. He is outspoken against shark-finning and is calling for a world-wide ban on the cruel practice, saying “The need to protect the sharks outweighs the need to enjoy a bowl of soup”.
Palau’s oceans are travelled by at least 130 threatened species of shark who will benefit from the sanctuary. President Toribiong said, “These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them.”
The shark sanctuary will constitute a major attraction for scuba divers travelling in the Indo-Pacific region looking to dive with sharks. These magnificent creatures including white tips, hammerheads and tiger sharks roam the extensive coral reefs in the area.
Palau has been seeking to establish their waters as a shark sanctuary since Nov ’01. Discussing sharks President Toribiong says, “Their physical beauty and strength, in my opinion, reflects the health of the oceans; they stand out.”
Sharks are thought to contribute to coral reef health. Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group commented, “Palau has recognised how important sharks are to healthy marine environments.”
Declaring that Palau “are leading the world in shark conservation.”
President Toribiong further requested a global ban be placed on bottom-trawling, which can devastate coral reef ecosystems. Adding he had planned to “state to the world that Palau will revisit its current position” on whaling.
Although an ever-increasing number of developing countries, including the Maldives, are now taking steps to protect sharks and limit trade in shark fins, Palau is a shining example of the way forward. President Toribiong urges other leaders “to follow suit.”