Taking a Stand

Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock, Secret Sea VisionsWe receive a lot of messages asking us to support various causes, usually marine related. I love it that people are concerned and want to do something to save animals and their environment.  As scuba divers and tourists, we are beginning to learn that our tourism dollars have clout – clout that we can use to influence political decisions.

Recently there has been some good news.  In fact, February was a banner month for marine conservation and sustainable marine tourism. The Indonesian government announced that the entire archipelago would become the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary.  The announcement came a couple of years after Raja Ampat was declared both a manta and shark sanctuary.  One of the main reasons cited for the formation of the sanctuary was the economic value of a living manta versus a dead one.  Manta RayAccording to various sources, one manta could potentially be worth up to U.S. two million in tourism dollars. Indonesia’s Minister of Marine Affairs commented that, “As the world’s largest archipelagic nation, it is important for Indonesia to maximize economic returns from our marine resources.”

Earlier in February, Palau declared a ban on all commercial fishing within its exclusive economic zone. Palau’s President, Tommy Remengesau said,  “We have no choice – the ocean is our way of life. It’s our livelihood, it’s our culture, it’s our economy – I always say the economy is our environment and the environment is our economy.”

“You may ask why, why are you doing this? It makes every sense for our sustainability as a people, as an island nation, and as a community.”

“We’re not just closing our waters and throwing away the key,” he said. We’re closing our waters because we will do our part of making sure that there’s healthy stocks of fish in Palau that can migrate to other places, and that there are other options to grow the economy.”

Silvertip SharkWhat this wise president is saying is that live schools of fish swarming around healthy reefs, live sharks and manta rays are worth even more than that magical two million in tourism dollars. What he is saying is that prohibiting commercial fishing fleets from outside nations to exploit Palau’s waters makes better sense for the island’s long term happiness and viability. And, that allowing non-sustainable commercial fishing operations to destroy Palau’s marine tourism industry, an industry that could provide livelihoods for generations of islanders, is not a viable, long term option.  Palau has chosen to promote scuba diving, snorkeling and eco-tourism as alternatives to the income produced from commercial fishing. The planet will benefit from this decision.

So, all of this wonderful news caused me to question what, if any, action has been taken elsewhere, especially by the United States, to protect sharks and manta rays within its waters. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) Appendix 2 lists three protected shark species, and the list will further protect five additional “commercially exploited” species after September 2014, but still allows for “legal and sustainable trade”. A mere 14 nations have enacted laws prohibiting shark fishing. Since 2000, the US has banned shark finning. Sharks must be brought to shore with their fins intact. But what good does it do to ban finning (or harvesting gill rakers from mantas) without banning shark fishing?  Either way the shark is killed. We now know that commercial shark finning and/or fishing, are unsustainable.  We now know that it is harmful to the marine environment and thus, to people and animals everywhere.  We now know that if sharks and rays are protected, tourists will come to marvel at them in their natural habitat, creating jobs for boat captains, their crews, dive shops and trip leaders. What we don’t know is why our government continues to support commercial shark fishing.


Maurine Shimlock & Burt Jones

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3 thoughts on “Taking a Stand”

  1. Those of us Australians who live near the Great Barrier Reef & dive are aghast at what our governments are doing…selling off the world’s greatest treasurer to the Chinese for mining & dumping…please help us save it by be proactive. Down Under we are signing petitions, arranging & attending rallies nearly daily but we need those of you “Up There” to realize that it’s almost done…time is about up! UNESCO gave another ‘extension’ before they pull the World Heritage designation.

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  2. “We now know that if sharks and rays are protected, tourists will come to marvel at them in their natural habitat, creating jobs….” and ladedadeda on it goes. More people show up to spend money supporting a small local economy and they shower and non treated water flows into the marine habitat, they flush toilets and more untreated water is flushed into marine habitat, excess refuse somehow finds it way into the marine environment, everyone wants fish/lobster dinners decreasing marine life in marine habitat and the expansion scenario I have personally witnessed over the many years of traveling/diving continually plays out….lots of issues here, ‘tragedy of the commons’ a most prevalent one….

    Lots of people trying to make a living on a very finite resource…..take indonesia’s 300 odd million people, for example. 80% or such live within a few miles of a coast line, and guess what they all eat? I don’t know what the answer is but I have seen this concept of ‘more tourist=more dollars=better lives for everyone,’ not working in many places I have been over the years. Not saying it can’t, just saying I have witnessed it not working. Gotta start somewhere though, I suppose. Though the almighty dollar concept is relevant, no matter what currency it plays out in a lot of it has to do with just having something to eat for many of these people living in foreign countries, or anywhere, actually….

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  3. It’s all about the almighty Dollar, of course. I remember in 2004 during what was one of my earlier visits to Palau, they had confiscated a trawler load of sharkfin. Tommy Remengesau told me he planned to have the sharkfin subject of a public burning but members of his own government argued that theirs was a poor country and the sharkfin was too valuable to be destroyed. They wanted to sell it on the open market thus unintentionally conspiring with the shark finners. I hope Tommy Remengesau got his way. Luckily he did have big business lobbying him!

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