A new effort to protect global shark and ray populations

Thrilled to learn that a 10-year global shark conservation strategy has been launched in Costa Rica. The document – authored and signed by a coalition of international conservation organisations – is an interesting new development that outlines a concerted joint international effort necessary for protecting these wonderful species.

Sharks – and their cousins, rays – are essential for ocean health. Just like top predators keep ecosystems on land in balance, so too do sharks across the ocean. Healthy reefs need sharks, and people and the planet need healthy reefs. Healthy reefs are not only critical for healthy fish populations that in turn help ensure food security for coastal populations, they also help build up resilience to climate change impacts like major storm events.

Recent studies estimate that at least 100 million sharks are killed each year. Sadly, they are deliberately hunted for their fins, body parts (for traditional Asian “medicine”), meat, bones, oil and cartilage. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has assessed that the status of 45 per cent of sharks species is unknown due to lack of data, and that 55 per cent of those of known status are threatened or near threatened with extinction.

A lot needs to be done to halt and reverse these frightening numbers. The new conservation strategy calls for both bottom-up and top-down interventions; from piloting local alternative livelihood projects to increasing provisions for the conservation of threatened species in regional and global agreements. However, the main point of the strategy is clear: world leaders must stand up and take action to protect sharks and keep them in the world’s oceans.

Shark and ray conservation requires action at local, regional and international levels, due to the international nature and complexity of the trade, the species’ migratory patterns, and the mobility of the global fishing fleet. The new strategy urges countries across the globe to take swift action, and advise them on what needs to be done to conserve and rebuild vulnerable shark and ray population.

"The implementation of this Global Strategy involves an ambitious, collaborative initiative that is dedicated to securing a brighter future for these remarkable species, fundamentally transforming how they are viewed, managed, and conserved. Rising interest in shark and ray conservation, by the public and governments alike, offers an unprecedented opportunity to catalyze change for the benefit of species, ecosystems, and humankind."

I’ve had the pleasure to swim with a number of endangered shark species, and recently made a trip to Grand Cayman for a special swim with dozens of beautiful rays. Sharks and rays are majestic creatures, which are worth more alive than dead to the planet and people.


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