On Friday, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa signed legislation declaring a 92,665 square mile shark sanctuary in the country’s waters. The measure solidifies the moratorium on commercial fishing for sharks that the nation announced last year with the island nation of Palau.
Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Honduras are included in the sanctuary, supporting evenly spread protection for sharks in the Honduran economic zone.
The move helps Honduras both environmentally and economically. Last month, a group of Australian researchers and a study from the island of Palau both concluded that sharks are worth more alive than dead, benefiting tourism and marine ecosystems. Scuba tourism is a primary source of revenue for Honduras, whose sharks attract thousands of divers each year.
“When tourists come to Roatan and other destinations, they spend money to see the sharks,” said Honduran First Vice President María Antonieta Guillén de Bogran. “But these animals don’t just help the Honduran economy. Our coral reefs and marine environment thrive because these apex predators are safe in our waters. Today’s declaration will help us all, underwater and on land, for generations to come.”
Conservationists and animal rights activists alike have applauded the new legislation, praising it as a substantial step forward in protecting sharks.
“All sharks take a long time to grow and mature,” said Jill M. Hepp of the Pew Environment Group, “so they really need more protection than just the traditional fisheries management tools like size limits and closed seasons. Wholesale sanctuaries are a much better option.”
Over the years, over-fishing and shark finning has wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists about one-third of all cartilaginous fishes, a group that includes sharks, as threatened with extinction, and multiple species are listed as endangered or critically endangered.
Around the world, other nations have taken steps to protect sharks. The Chilean Senate is currently considering a bill to ban shark finning in the country’s water zone, which, if passed, could leave Venezuela as the only South American nation not restricting shark finning. In the United States, California is contemplating a bill to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins. Hawaii, Oregon, and the state of Washington have already undertaken similar measures.
Yet, Honduras has become a leader in shark protection, boasting that its shark sanctuary improves legislation to conserve numerous shark species endangered by commercial fishing.
“We want to be a reference point for the world,” said Vice President Guillén de Bogran. “We’re a small country, but we can set an example.”
Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Carribbean_reef_shark.jpg