Virgin boss Branson champions efforts to save Caribbean sharks
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.