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Cook Islands create vast sanctuary for sharks

23/12/2012 15:14:46

Grey reef shark in the Cook Islands. Photo: Tahiti Private Expeditions

Protected area in the South Pacific equals the size of Mexico
December 2012. The Cook Islands has banned the possession, sale, and trade of shark products and end commercial shark fishing in more than 1.9 million square kilometres (756,000 square miles) of ocean. The Cook Islands declaration follows the recent announcement by neighbouring French Polynesia, creating the world's largest contiguous shark sanctuary of more than 6.7 million square kilometres (2.6 million square miles). The Pew Environment Group applauds the Cook Islands for this decision.

"This is hopeful news for the world's sharks and our efforts to protect them," said Jill Hepp, director of shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group. "We are thrilled to see the Cook Islands become part of this global movement during a time when so many shark populations are threatened."

"We are proud, as Cook Islanders, to provide our entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area of 1.9 million square kilometres as a shark sanctuary," said the Honorable Teina Bishop, Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources when he made the announcement. "Together with our Polynesian neighbour, Tahiti Nui (French Polynesia), we have created the largest shark sanctuary in the World. We join our Pacific neighbours to protect this animal, which is very vital to the health of our oceans, and our culture."

The Cook Islands have declared a vast shark sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Benedict Adam via Flickr

The Cook Islands have declared a vast shark sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Benedict Adam via Flickr

Size of Mexico
The sanctuary, encompassing an area the size of Mexico, is the result of a partnership between the Pew Environment Group and the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative and the support of many local community and political leaders. Hundreds of signatures were collected on a local petition, and students submitted letters and drawings bearing the message "Akono Te Mango (Protect Our Sharks)."

"We're very proud to stand together today in celebration for sharks and for the community," said Stephen Lyon, director of the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative. "It further establishes the Cook Islands, which has already declared both a whale sanctuary and a marine park, as a world leader in marine protection."

The Cook Islands joins Palau, the Maldives, Tokelau, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, and now French Polynesia in establishing shark sanctuaries. They cover a combined area of more than 11.4 million square kilometres (4.4 million square miles) of ocean. Sharks are key predators and their depletion risks the health of entire ocean ecosystems.

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