Vast swath of western Pacific closed to commercial shark fishing
WASHINGTON—The Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) passed legislation Feb. 4 to create a shark sanctuary in the country's full exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which covers nearly 3 million square kilometers (1.1 million square miles) in the western Pacific Ocean.
The Micronesia Conservation Trust, which has worked the past four years with The Pew Charitable Trusts and other conservation organizations to advocate for protection of sharks throughout Micronesia, welcomed the legislation. The measure, expected to be signed into law by President Manny Mori, prohibits the commercial fishing and trade of sharks and their parts.
"Our commitment to the Micronesia Challenge includes the protection of the top predators in our ocean," President Mori said. The Micronesia Challenge is a regional declaration of conservation goals to which the nation agreed in 2006. "Our traditional stories say that sharks protect the people. Now the people will protect the sharks."
On a broader scale, passage of the legislation marks the completion of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, which already includes the waters of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. In total, the area of protected shark habitat across the contiguous area is larger than the size of the European Union.
Creation of the FSM sanctuary follows a grassroots effort spearheaded by the Micronesia Conservation Trust, based in Pohnpei. Led by executive director Willy Kostka, the organization built a coalition of conservationists, traditional leaders, and students to advocate for protection of sharks throughout Micronesia. This was a collaborative effort between national and state governments and various stakeholders, including the Office of the President, Senator Singkoro Harper and the FSM National Congress, FSM Department of Justice, FSM R&D, NORMA, National Fisheries Corporation, Caroline Fisheries Corporation, Luen Thai, Pohnpei Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and local conservation organizations and partners.
"More than 8,000 students from across the region signed petitions to support these protections," Kostka said. "This is something the people wanted."
Passage of the FSM's law creates the 10th shark sanctuary in the world and cements the country as a global leader in shark conservation. The sanctuary will protect iconic species such as silky and thresher sharks, which are considered near threatened and threatened, respectively, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Worldwide, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries. Nearly 30 percent of all known shark species assessed by scientists are threatened with extinction.
"The completion of the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary is truly a landmark action because it joins together a massive swath of the western Pacific as a trans-boundary sanctuary for all the sharks that migrate across this huge ocean region," said Angelo Villagomez, a shark expert with Pew. "We look forward to working with our partners in the FSM to make certain that the implementing regulations ensure strong protections for sharks."
Sharks play an important role in maintaining the health of the entire ocean. As top predators, they regulate the variety and abundance of other species in the food web, including commercially important fish. Sharks help maintain healthy marine habitats, such as coral reefs.
They also are among the foremost species that scuba divers want to see, and their presence helps attracts tourists to these islands. By establishing a shark sanctuary, the FSM is acting to strengthen the marine ecosystem, including coral reefs, and helping to secure industries, such as tourism, that depend on a healthy ocean.
MCT and Pew wish to thank the following people, organizations, and government agencies, for whom this sanctuary could not have been completed without:
Mwoalen Wahu Ileile en wein Pohnpei (Traditional Leadership Council of Pohnpei State)
Micronesia Traditional Leaders Council
H.E. President Emmanuel "Manny" Mori
Micronesia Chief Executives
Association of Pacific Island Legislatures and Members
FSM Congress and staff attorney, Alik Jackson
FSM R&D Secretary Marion Henry and Assistant Secretary Alissa Takesy
FSM Department of Justice
FSM Postal Services, Mrs. Ginger Porter-Mida
Chuuk State Governor, Honorable Mr. Johnson Elimo
Chuuk State Government
Chuuk State Fisheries, Resources, and Marine Conservation Agencies
Kosrae State Governor, Honorable Mr. Lyndon Jackson
Kosrae State Government
Kosrae State Fisheries, Resources, and Marine Conservation Agencies
Pohnpei State Governor, Honorable Mr. John Ehsa
Pohnpei State Government
Pohnpei State Fisheries, Resources, and Marine Conservation Agencies
Yap State Governor, Honorable Mr. Sebastian Anefal
Yap State Government
Yap State Fisheries, Resources, and Marine Conservation Agencies
National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA)
National Fisheries Corporation (NFC)
Caroline Fisheries Corporation (CFC)
The Nature Conservancy
Chuuk Conservation Society
Conservation Society of Pohnpei
Kosrae Conservation & Safety Organization
Yap Community Action Program
Pohnpei Youth Environment Ambassadors
Kembo Mida, Jr., Ramp and Mida
Island Girl Power
Marshall Islands Conservation Society (MICS)
Micronesia Shark Foundation
Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance (MINA)
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Learn more at www.pewtrusts.org.