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Proof by shark count

Ropate Valemei
Monday, December 10, 2012

SHARK divers in Fiji are waiting for the result of the shark counting around the country to prove their theory of the decline in sharks in the Fiji waters.

However, Beqa Shark Divers' Nanise Ledua said the fact remains for the overfishing and killing of sharks in Fiji.

"The counting of sharks that ended last month was to prove the decline of sharks in all of the Fiji waters," Ms Ledua said.

She could guarantee that it was not declining in a specific area but nationwide.

"Of course, sharks in Fiji are declining as divers from Taveuni, Nadi, Savusavu and Beqa have witnessed it," Ms Ledua said.

"This was also revealed in workshops and exercises that were done by divers around Fiji," she said.

"The most recent one was done in Pacific Harbour by the Beqa Divers."

Ms Ledua said Fiji was one of the top international destinations for divers in the Pacific and scuba divers rank sharks high on their must-see lists, and many were willing to pay a premium to see them in the wild.

"More than half of the tourists who visit Fiji go there to participate in diving, snorkelling, or other water sports.

"As a result, the abundance and diversity of sharks provide a valuable asset to the Fijian economy through tourism."

She said they would urge government to put a law and legislation for the protection of sharks, similarly for dolphins and whales.

"We will have to do something because this is a national interest as sharks are rarely noticed in our waters.

"There can be an average of three sharks spotted in a particular area."

She said more fishing boats and nets were seen in waters around Fiji.

"We have to do something and protect this species. There should be a balance in the marine ecosystem," Ms Ledua said.

"We have to protect our marine ecosystem for the future generation of this country."

The figures collected from the shark census by divers around Fiji will hopefully be released next year.

"The figures will be sent to the United States of America for analysis and a paper will be produced on the findings," Ms Ledua said.

There are more than eight species of sharks that can be spotted in Fiji waters.

She said their previous findings had prompted them to expand the protected area by creating the protected Fiji Shark Corridor of close to 30 nautical miles along the southern coastline of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu.

Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established in April 2004 and is the first of its kind in Fiji, namely, a protected sanctuary for the sharks.

"Our newest conservation project will result in yet another Marine Park being established within the corridor."

Some of the sharks were blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks, tawny nurse sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, bull sharks and the occasional tiger shark.

The announcement was made on December 6 during the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Manila, Philippines on the comprehensive and permanent shark protection in French Polynesia.

The government of French Polynesia took a bold decision to establish the world's largest shark sanctuary by banning fishing for all shark species in the country's entire exclusive economic zone.

At more than 4.7 million square kilometres (1.8 million square miles) of ocean, this designation doubles the size of the area already protected by the six existing shark sanctuaries.

Some other Pacific islands like American Samoa have put an end to shark fishing.

Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group in a statement said sharks were threatened throughout much of the world's oceans and there was a great need to protect them before they slipped below levels from which they may never recover.

Mr Reichert said it was now up to countries around the world to build on this recent success and ensure a sustainable future for sharks.

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