Vir­gin boss Bran­son cham­pi­ons ef­forts to save Caribbean sharks

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL - – Caribbean360

Sir Richard Bran­son’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy in the Caribbean is well known, from his sup­port for the green en­ergy move­ment to his push for ocean con­ser­va­tion, the lat­ter of which was re­cently seen at a three-day shark con­ser­va­tion sym­po­sium held at the Son­esta Ocean Point re­sort in Maho, St Maarten.

Dur­ing the sym­po­sium, St Maarten Prime Min­is­ter William Mar­lin and Wayne Pan­ton, Min­is­ter of Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, Com­merce and En­vi­ron­ment for the Cay­man Is­lands an­nounced that their ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones (EEZs) were com­pletely closed to com­mer­cial shark fish­ing.

To­gether, the two new sanc­tu­ar­ies cover a to­tal of 46,190 square miles (119,631 square kilo­me­tres) and raise the to­tal num­ber of Caribbean sanc­tu­ar­ies to seven.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Cu­ra­cao and Gre­nada an­nounced that they will es­tab­lish leg­is­la­tion this year that will pro­tect sharks in their wa­ters.

Gov­ern­ment lead­ers and Bran­son were joined by global shark ex­perts and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts and other non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions at a press con­fer­ence to cham­pion the new pro­tected ar­eas.

Vir­gin boss Bran­son, who owns a home on his pri­vate is­land in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, said: “We ap­plaud the steps taken by Caribbean is­land gov­ern­ments to con­serve sharks in their wa­ters. To th­ese gov­ern­ments, sharks are worth far more alive than dead. We are de­lighted and en­cour­aged to see this bold ac­tion be­ing taken to pro­tect Caribbean ecosys­tems and bol­ster eco­tourism in­dus­tries.”

Luke War­wick, di­rec­tor of Pew’s global shark con­ser­va­tion cam­paign, noted: “St Maarten and the Cay­man Is­lands have joined a pro­gres­sive group of lead­ers in global shark con­ser­va­tion by choos­ing to fully pro­tect the di­verse but vul­ner­a­ble shark and ray species found in their wa­ters. We look for­ward to con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of shark con­ser­va­tion in the Caribbean to se­cure the re­gion as a safe haven for threat­ened shark species.

“Es­tab­lish­ing sanc­tu­ar­ies to pro­tect all sharks makes clear that th­ese top preda­tors war­rant the same sta­tus as other vul­ner­a­ble marine wildlife that help at­tract eco­tourism, such as tur­tles and whales.”

The sym­po­sium fol­lowed a meet­ing Bran­son co-hosted in the Ba­hamas last year, urg­ing re­gional gov­ern­ments to en­act shark sanc­tu­ar­ies, a call quickly met by the Dutch Caribbean is­lands of Bon­aire and Saba, join­ing ex­ist­ing shark sanc­tu­ar­ies in the Ba­hamas and the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands.

This month the Vir­gin mogul drew at­ten­tion to new re­search led by Dr Edd Brooks at the Cape Eleuthera In­sti­tute and pre­sented at the sym­po­sium, which showed that sharks gen­er­ate US$113 mil­lion an­nu­ally in di­rect ex­pen­di­ture and value added through tourism to the econ­omy in the Ba­hamas.

Sir Richard Bran­son (cen­tre) with Caribbean lead­ers at the Son­esta Ocean Point Re­sort in St Maarten.

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