In Semporna, Malaysia, the shark hunt is nearing a dangerous point. Conservationists have a small window of time to develop the proposed Semporna Shark Sanctuary before itís not only sharks that disappear, but sustainable jobs, solutions to poverty and an ocean biodiversity kept in check by the captain of the underwater food chain.
The 63 species of shark and 68 species of ray drifting through Sempornaís waters are not exactly damsels in distress. Sharks can pay their own conservation fees — or at least they could if they werenít being hunted to the brink of extinction by the shark fin soup industry. Sharks generated 192 million dollars last year thanks to an increasingly popular dive tourism, or, swimming with sharks. In fact, the estimated value of one shark throughout its lifetime is 815,000 US dollars. Contrast this number with the value of a dead shark that will be sold for its fin, a process that only generates an estimated 100 U.S. dollars. Based on these numbers, a comprehensive financing plan will accompany the Semporna Shark Sanctuary to make sure the sanctuary is successfully funded by none other than the toothy predator itself.
Shark fin soup has no nutritional value. It has been linked to mercury poisoning, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain diseases.
Fisheries hunting sharks for the coveted menu item are killing off the very species that employs them. Many sharks like the Scalloped Hammerhead have declined by up to 90 percent — loudly signaling that shark hunting just isnít a sustainable job option for the poverty-stricken regions that need long-term employment. Dive tourism can replace the bloody day-job of shark hunting while also saving shark species and the ocean that depends on them.
The shark sanctuary will cover 83 islands which include 1,001 dive sites to protect an optimal amount of sharks and marine life. A crucial state-wide shark fishing ban has also been in the works for years. The shark-hunting ban is necessary to ensure the Semporna Shark Sanctuary reaches its full potential — but politicians are still deliberating on how to make both the ban and the sanctuary a reality.
Local and international non-government organizations (NGOs), government bodies and local communities largely support the Semporna Shark Sanctuary Project. The problem is, they have been supporting the plan since the Borneo Conservancy proposed it several years ago and, as conservationists keep explaining: the sharks canít wait.
The Semporna region is one of the few areas in the world where a devastating shark decline is still preventable, but this wonít be true for long. In the very near future, even Sempornaís shark species will have declined so severely that they cannot be saved.
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