We watch a lot of expedition blogs here at Underwater Thrills. Most are garden variety expeditions exploring the flora and fauna of the non sharky kind.
Then there's this, a recent report from the Woods Hole Expedition to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.
Never heard of it?
The Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area is the largest protected marine area in the world. It was formed in 2008 thanks to the efforts of the Island nation of Kiribati, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International.
This post serves as a cautionary tale to the recent stunning news about Palau's newly announced Shark Sanctuary. Without enforcement Palau's sharks are still at risk, a combination of shark tourism dollars and NGO guidance will provide the operational capital and vessels to keep fishermen out of the region.
Here's the recent expedition blog post talking about the sharks of the Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area:
But some fish were scarce: divers saw fewer, much smaller sharks than were here in years past. Sharks are the targets worldwide of a lucrative trade in shark fins for the Asian market, and in many places there are almost no sharks left.
Fish biologist Greg Stone said, “We’re seeing the result of shark fishing that happened before PIPA was protected. We know that commercial long-lining fishing vessels came through in 2001 and 2005, and we saw some of this fishing happening at the time, but the Phoenix Islands were not a protected area until 2006.”
The problem is that sharks reproduce slowly and don’t grow quickly, so there are only young, small sharks on the reef. “The success,” said Greg, “is that there are many young sharks, and the Kiribati government has great surveillance systems in place to protect them and the reefs.”
Tukabu told our group, “Kiiribati has signed an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawai’I to allow Kiribati officers on USCG ships, and they are authorized to arrest fishing boats here illegally – they have surveillance on the area, and inform our security system if boats are here illegally. The Kiribati government has recently fined two illegal shark fishing vessels five million dollars.” The scientists hope that this action will send a strong message: stay out of PIPA, and let the reefs be. Like the Phoenix, they will rise.