KWA­JALEIN ATOLL

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Marine Sanctuaries Around The World - By Brandi Mueller

mil­lion square kilo­me­tres that joined with the Mar­shall Is­lands, Palau, and the Com­mon­wealth of the North­ern Mar­i­anas Is­lands’ sanc­tu­ar­ies to cre­ate the Mi­crone­sia Re­gional Shark Sanc­tu­ary. All to­gether, this sanc­tu­ary spans 6.5 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres in the Western Pa­cific Ocean.

How and if this mas­sive area can be mon­i­tored, con­trolled, and how sur­veil­lance will oc­cur re­mains a ques­tion, but the ef­fort is laud­able and shows the level of ded­i­ca­tion the peo­ple of the Pa­cific have to­wards shark con­ser­va­tion. The col­lab­o­ra­tion of the FSM, RMI, Palau, Guam and CNMI will fur­ther en­able them to work to­gether on these tough prob­lems.

Almost ev­ery dive in the Mar­shall Is­lands in­cludes sight­ings of sharks. Whitetip reef sharks and nurse sharks cruise the decks of Japanese WWII ship­wrecks and grey reef sharks are a com­mon sight on almost ev­ery reef dive. On the ocean­side of the atoll, sight­ings of silky sharks, ham­mer­heads, oceanic whitetips, and tiger sharks are just some of the many species spot­ted by divers and from boats.

This mostly un­vis­ited and iso­lated re­gion is prob­a­bly one of the most pris­tine places left on Earth, with com­par­a­tively low im­pact from com­mer­cial fish­ing, pol­lu­tion, de­vel­op­ment, and even divers.

Its healthy shark pop­u­la­tions and beau­ti­ful ma­rine life is ev­i­dence of what pro­tec­tion can achieve. The Repub­lic of the Mar­shall Is­lands (RMI) is home to one of the world’s largest shark sanc­tu­ar­ies. It cov­ers almost two mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, an area about the size of Mex­ico, with only a land mass of 181 square kilo­me­tres. The rest of that re­mote area in the Western Pa­cific, just north of the equa­tor and west of the International Date Line, is a healthy ma­rine ecosys­tem teem­ing with sharks and other ma­rine life. The sanc­tu­ary was cre­ated in 2011, fol­low­ing the lead of Palau, which who es­tab­lished the first shark sanc­tu­ary in 2009, the largest of its kind up to that point. Since then, other coun­tries have joined in and cre­ated larger sanc­tu­ar­ies, in­clud­ing Guam, the Com­mon­wealth of the North­ern Mar­i­anas Is­lands (CNMI), and the Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia.

The RMI shark sanc­tu­ary bans the com­mer­cial fish­ing of sharks and the sale of shark or shark parts (in­clud­ing fins). It also pro­hibits cer­tain types of fish­ing gear such as wire lead­ers, which in­crease shark by­catch. Fines of up to US$200,000 can be given to any­one found fish­ing sharks or in pos­ses­sion of shark fins. For a coun­try of just over 50,000 peo­ple, this mas­sive sanc­tu­ary is a huge step for­ward in the con­ser­va­tion of sharks. In the RMI, fish­ing boats must clear their catch at one of the is­lands be­fore leav­ing and show that they do not have sharks on-board.

In 2015, the Fed­er­ated States of Mi­crone­sia cre­ated a shark sanc­tu­ary cov­er­ing almost three

WHEN

2011

WHERE

Mar­shall Is­lands

WHAT

Shark Sanc­tu­ary

RIGHT A nurse shark hides un­der the wing of a WWII plane in the air­craft grave­yard at Kwa­jalein Atoll

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