Further evidence about why we can do without shark’s fin soup. Sharks that inhabit the waters around the tiny Pacific nation of Palau (nearest city = Manila, 530 miles away) are worth $1.9 million each, according to a new study by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Divers, says the New York Times, travel the world over to dive with the mainly gray reef and reef whitetip sharks in Palau’s waters.
In fact, those waters were declared the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009. Now, those diver tourists contribute roughly 39 percent of the country’s gross domestic product of $218 million, with 21 percent of those divers noting that the sharks are attraction for them. Tourism to view sharks makes up roughly 8 percent of Palau’s G.D.P.. With roughly 100 sharks in “prime dive areas” each worth some $179,000 annually, one shark is worth $1.9 million over the course of its lifetime.
Ironically, just a few years before Palau became a shark sanctuary, the country had been considering opening a shark fishery to export shark fins, which are considered a delicacy in Asian countries. While the United States, the European Union and many other countries have banned the “most widely condemned type of shark fishing” in which fins are cut from live sharks who are left to sink slowly to the sea bottom, Japan, China and many Southeast Asian nations continue to “allow, if not encourage, finning.”
But other countries seem to be following Palau’s example of promoting shark tourism rather than the cruel practice of finning. The Maldives has also declared itself a shark sanctuary and, says the New York Times, tourism operators and conservationists in Fiji, the Bahamas and other dive destinations are now also seeking to protect the sharks.
Mark Meekan, principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, notes there is a real argument to be made for sharks and the ecosystem:
…there is a strong argument that sharks are an economically valuable part of the ecosystem, he said, noting that the Chesapeake Bay scallop industry was devastated in recent years by a proliferation of cownose rays caused partly by the overfishing of the rays’ main predators, which include hammerheads and other sharks.
Mr. [Matt] Rand of the Pew Environment Group [which financed the study] argues that even if a direct dollar figure cannot be attached to each shark, they are worth protecting.
“People understand that when you take all the wolves out of Yellowstone or the lions out of the Serengeti, that there’s going to be quite an effect on the ecosystem,” he said. “It’s the same with the oceans, where sharks are the top-order predators.”
“Sharks grow slowly and give birth to few young,” Mr. Rand noted. “Once they lose these species, they won’t recover like other fish,” he said, adding that quick action was therefore needed by governments.
Even if you have no plans of diving with sharks, knowing that finning — besides being brutal and cruel — is destroying an animal valued at almost $2 million, you’d think people would be even more willing to stop clamoring for a soup made from a few strands its cartilage.
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