Conserving Sharks in the Caribbean

Shark conservation in Curaçao and the greater Caribbean region is needed because sharks are playing an increasingly important role in island economies as an important natural attraction for eco-based recreation and tourism.

As recently as fifteen years ago, sharks, the apex predator of marine ecosystems, where abundant in Caribbean coastal waters. Over the past several years however, shark encounters while scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing have become a rare occurrence. The depletion of these keystone species is not unique to the Caribbean. Globally, shark populations have suffered rapid decline from over exploitation, threatening the health of coral reef and open ocean ecosystems that they maintain.

To counter this trend, and set an example for the region, in 2011 the St. Maarten Nature Foundation successfully lobbied for a ban on fishing and killing sharks and rays in the territorial waters around St. Maarten. In the last three years the region has seen the implementation of shark conservation action plans in the Bahamas, Honduras and Venezuela.

However, significant challenges exist amongst all stakeholders. Theses challenges must be overcome to reverse the damages that have been done to coral and fish communities. Unfortunately, up until recently, Curaçao has not actively took the steps necessary to cultivate a culture that safeguards its ocean resources for the benefit its people now and into the future. BUT, everything is set to change now! Curaçao has committed to take action and pledged resources to the UN Agenda 2030. 

Curacao Agenda 2030

Curaçao – United Nations Agenda 2030

The Government of Curaçao has shown the commitment to achieve a vision of sustainable and shared prosperity which includes the implementation of 6 sustainable development goals (SDG’s) that are part of the larger United Nations Agenda 2030.

SDG #14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. How we manage this vital resource is essential for humanity as a whole, and to counterbalance the effects of climate change.

The SDGs aim to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Enhancing conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources through international law will also help mitigate some of the challenges facing our oceans.

VISIT Curaçao 2030 for more information

Demystifying and solving the secret of the Dutch Caribbean’s Sharks

Through the support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the Dutch Caribbean is leading the way with the establishment of a regional shark sanctuary that includes the largest submerged coral reef atoll in the world, the Saba Bank and the entire Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone.

Public support for shark conservation is critical for the successful awareness, policy, legislation and regulations. Therefore, the largest component of the project is a global communication and outreach campaign that promoted the conservation of Caribbean sharks.

This campaign included, but was not be limited to: a feature film documentary of sharks of the Saba Bank and the neighboring Dutch Caribbean Islands; a satellite tagging component where researchers, scientists, educators and the general public are able to track shark migration in real-time around the regional islands.

Sharks are seen globally as a charismatic species and their plight has garnered much global attention, however when it comes to shark sanctuaries and participation of an organization such as NPL and its clients would make this one of the most unique collaborations for the conservation of an apex predator thus far, not only regionally but also globally.

Sharks, as apex predators, regulate the natural balance of our ocean ecosystems.

By hunting old, weak or sick prey, they enable only the more naturally fit animals to reproduce and thereby keep the prey population in good condition.

Throughout the world, sharks are playing an increasingly important role in island economies as an important natural attraction for eco-based recreation and tourism. A recent study has shown that a single shark can represent an average touristic resource value of US$ 2.64 million. Consequently, shark protection is taking flight around the world, including the Caribbean.

Caribbean Shark Coalition

Launched to Promote Training, Impact, and Collaboration around shark protections in the Greater Caribbean Region

The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and  Beneath the Waves (BTW) and have launched the Caribbean Shark Coalition (CSC), an innovative, new platform to bring key stakeholders, researchers, governments and funders together to better collaborate and scale the impacts of science and policy within the entire Greater Caribbean region.

The Caribbean plays a key role in advancing the global target of protecting 30% of the worlds’ ocean by 2030. Under this vision, the CSC has three primary goals, which will be carried out through collaborative work and CSC-member projects. Firstly, the CSC will foster collaboration in shark and ray research, policy, and capacity building for conservation among stakeholders, and provide opportunities for knowledge transfer and data synthesis.

The CSC will also seek to explore ways in which transboundary protections can be made to better safeguard the long-term health of shark and ray populations. Finally, the CSC aims to promote a sustainable future for these species as well as the human livelihoods who depend on them, by engaging local businesses, stakeholders, and private sector corporations.

The Caribbean Shark Coalition is a concerted regional approach in the global endeavor to save sharks and is one of the five major shark conservation projects running globally that includes the PADI AWARE Foundation.

Conservation organizations worldwide are focusing on preserving sharks, which we now know are some of the most endangered species on the planet. Science has described at least 500 species of sharks but many species, which have existed since the time of the Dinosaurs, face increasing human-related threats and, for some species, extinction.

The demand for fins and other shark products has driven a number of species close to extinction. More than 100 million sharks are killed each year as a result of fishing and shark finning activities, twice the rate at which they can reproduce. Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover from depletion because they are late to mature and produce few young.

Curacao Shark Conservation | Dive Curacao
Photo courtesy of the DCNA

Sharks are some of the most misunderstood species on the planet

All of the Dutch Islands aim to have a level of shark conservation in place at the end of the three year project: “Sharks are some of the most misunderstood species on the planet. For generations we have been led to believe that sharks are the villains of the seas and that they pose a danger to everything that swims in the ocean, including humans. But we now know that is very far from the truth; these magnificent creatures are essential to the ocean, and therefore essential to us as islanders because of our intimate connection with the sea. Without sharks we lose that which makes our islands so unique; our marine habitats. That is why we have embarked on this journey with the Dutch Postcode Lottery and our other partners, a journey of protecting these keystone species on all of the six-islands in the Dutch Caribbean,” (Tadzio Bervoets, Director of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, co-founder of the Caribbean Shark Coalition and former Chair of the Save our Sharks Project Committee).

As of March 13th, 2017 there is “great news for shark conservation in the Caribbean. It was officially decided to protect eight shark species under the international Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol following a proposal by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in cooperation with a team of shark experts. The SPAW protocol is the only cross-border legislative instrument for nature conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region.” (Click here for link to full Story)

Irene Kingma, director of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society (DES) and one of the shark experts that helped with the shortlist: “Sharks do not respect borders and cover enormous distances, which is why it is important to protect them on a region-wide scale. The proposals from the Dutch Ministry have helped providing these fragile species with the protection they deserve, which we consider a great success.”

What is the importance of protecting the Shark species?

“People need healthy oceans and healthy oceans need sharks, the apex predator of the ocean,” 

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