Maldives sharks are off the hook
Sharks are probably the most iconic animals in our oceans today. They evoke feelings of fear, awe, and, for the enlightened few, joy. Their body shape and skin have inspired the innovation of countless products from speedo swimsuits to self-cleaning ship hulls. Sharks have been apex predators in our oceans for millions of years, and evolution has led to over 400 species conquering pretty much every marine habitat on the planet. But times are hard for sharks. Peter Benchley’s ‘Jaws’ was partly responsible for the slaughter of sharks in the 70′s and 80′s but that has been made to look insignificant by recent events. In the last 10-15 years the rise of the wealthy Chinese middle class has driven the demand for shark’s fin soup to unprecendented levels. The massive popularity of this single product has pushed many species of shark to the brink of extinction. Here are some of the facts:
- Over 70 million sharks are killed each year for sharks fin soup.
- Some Atlantic shark populations have declined by up to 80% in the last 15 years.
- 50-80% of all shark fin passes through Hong Kong.
- Currently the EU supplies 27% of all fins imported into Hong Kong.
- Sharks’ life history makes them vulnerable to exploitation – for example, Basking Sharks take 15-20 years to mature, have a 2-3 year gestation period and produce only 4–6 pups.
- The cartilage found in sharks fin soup has no nutritional value or taste.
- As apex predators sharks play a vital role in the marine ecosystem.
But there is some good news for sharks. Following the lead of Palau, the Republic of the Maldives became only the second country in the world to ban all fishing of sharks. “We’ve decided to go ahead with a shark fishing ban,” Ibrahim Didi, the fisheries and agriculture minister of the Maldives was quoted as saying in the NY times. “Beginning July 1 there will be a total ban on exports.” At a time when anecdotal evidence suggests shark encounters by recreational divers in the atolls of the Maldives seem to be decreasing, this is welcome news indeed. While the decision is a victory for environmentalists and shark lovers, it was driven by simple economics. It is estimated that a live shark is worth over $3000 to the Maldivian economy over the course of its life compared to $34 dead, and over the past 12 years in the Maldives the value of the shark trade has shrunk by more than 80 percent. Whatever the motivation, this decree is extremely positive, and has hopefully come in time to save the remaining sharks in the Maldives, and ensure that scuba divers from all over the world continue to flock to the current-swept channels and thilas of the Maldives to encounter these beautiful animals.