Celebrating the Caribbean’s newest shark and ray sanctuary: the whole Dominican Republic

Just over a week ago, we celebrated World Oceans Day at the United Nations Ocean Conference – an event that saw a number of countries make voluntary commitments to support the conservation and sustainability of the ocean.

Francisco Dominguez Brito and Richard Branson dominican republic

I had the pleasure of meeting several Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents at the conference, all of who are acting to protect marine species and environments within their country’s waters. One of those conversations led me to the Dominican Republic on Saturday for the announcement of the world’s newest shark and ray sanctuary.

I was honoured to join Minister Francisco Dominguez Brito and other Dominican leaders to celebrate their enormously important commitment to protect vulnerable shark and ray species for future generations.

Francisco Dominguez Brito and Richard Branson dominican republic

My home, the British Virgin Islands, became a shark and ray sanctuary in 2014, effectively protecting all sharks and rays in our Exclusive Economic Zone from commercial fishing and trade. The BVI followed The Bahamas, which became the Caribbean’s first shark sanctuary in 2011. Bonaire and Saba joined late in 2015, then St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands. And now the Dominican Republic.

We are pleased that momentum started with a get-together of these governments on Necker Island, where we put forward the need for the Caribbean to unite to protect sharks, turtles and rays. The Dominican Republic have gone one step further in protecting sea urchins and parrotfish - who in turn protect the region's beautiful reefs - as well as all bird life.

Francisco Dominguez Brito and Richard Branson dominican republic

And the country has sent a very strong message that the Government will enforce these laws: sending someone to prison for selling turtle shells to tourists. I commend Minister Brito's and the Dominican Republic’s efforts.

When I met with Minister Brito at World Oceans Day at the UN, he called me an angel that had given him the courage to push these laws through. That’s one name I’ve never been called before! I told him that the laws were the best news to come out of the day, and gave him the biggest hug ever – forgetting for a moment he had a broken arm.

Francisco Dominguez Brito and Richard Branson dominican republic

It’s wonderful to see governments across the Caribbean coming together to protect sharks and rays. Slowly but surely the whole Caribbean is moving towards becoming a protected zone. Sharks and other marine species don't recognise borders. Many species migrate through the Caribbean, so the more waters that are protected, the better it is for them, the reefs and the resilience and health of the marine environment.

There are a few remaining Caribbean governments yet to commit to protecting sharks and rays, but we’re hopeful that movement from the UN and the Dominican Republic will spread across the region. Safeguards for these amazing ocean creatures are so crucial, because a healthy ocean is important to all of us.  

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