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To the rescue

Helen Sykes
Monday, January 16, 2012

A NADI resident who has been closely following the Shark Sanctuary Campaign was disgusted to find that the bodies of mutilated baby sharks are regularly on sale at the Nadi fishmarket.

Lavenia Mataitoga had been made aware of the issues with shark fishing in Fiji through The Fiji Times Save the Shark Campaign and the screenings of the Coral Reef Alliance documentary Shark Hope.

The dive operation she works for, Reef Safari Diving in Port Denarau Marina, also has an active environmental education program for all its staff led by marine biologist Maddy Carse.

Consequently when Ms Mataitoga encountered juvenile whitetip reef sharks and endangered hammerhead sharks in the market, she was outraged.

The shark defender challenged the sellers, and since then, one of them has stopped trading in sharks.

The other identified himself as a "middleman", not a fisherman.

He was selling the bodies of whitetip reef sharks, which had already had their fins cut off for the shark fin trade, for $F2 each.

Baby sharks are regularly caught in the Nadi Bay river estuaries, showing that this is a valuable breeding ground for these endangered species.

Many sharks do not breed until they are 10-15 years old, and then usually only have two to six babies.

If the babies are killed before they have a chance to reproduce, it will reduce the number of adult sharks, and the population will be destroyed.

Living sharks are vital to a healthy reef fish population and also bring millions of dollars to Fiji from tourists who come to go shark diving.

Killing them for $2 just doesn't make sense, economically or environmentally.

"The majority of divers have a high expectation of seeing sharks when diving in Fiji," says Reef Safaris general manager Andrew Cole.

"And all have a high respect for these apex creatures and for their necessity to have populations restored to true balance in order to protect the ecosystem of the marine world.

"Take away the sharks and the reputation of Fiji diving being a visual, dynamic and exciting experience has a high potential of being damaged and there are numerous other dive destinations around the world that may then be considered as holiday destinations at the expense of Fiji."

Ms Mataitoga had the courage of her convictions and spoke to the shark sellers, explaining that sharks are endangered and that they should be preserved.

She spoke out in the market and made sure her point was understood.

If we all did the same, we could stop this ugly trade very quickly.

Let's protect Fiji's sharks.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP

Any time you see sharks, shark meat or shark fin soup for sale, talk politely to the people doing it and explain why we should be protecting sharks. Or, if you prefer, just cut out the box below and give it to the person. Many people are still not aware why this is a problem, but by spreading the information, you can make a real difference, one shark at a time.

* Living sharks are important to the environment, tourism economy, and culture of Fiji.

* They are extremely vulnerable to overfishing as they grow slowly and breed at a late age and in small numbers.

* Shark fishing is not part of Fijian tradition or long-term fisheries practice.

* Please do not sell, buy or eat shark fin soup.

Become A Fiji Shark Defender!

* Helen Sykes works with shark campaigner Manoa Rasigatale and the Coral Reef Alliance, in conjunction with Pew, to create awareness and help bring about legislation for a sanctuary to protect sharks in Fiji's waters.





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