In 2009, the island of Palau, located in the western Pacific Ocean just above New Guinea, established the first shark sanctuary in the world. Officials from the country say they’ve seen such success with the shark sanctuary as a buzzing tourist destination that they’ve launched plans to ban all commercial fishing in Palau’s large ocean territory by 2018.
The free fishing zone will span 630,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) - an area the size of France - and has been described as “unprecedented”.
The reason behind the no-fishing zone, according to the President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, was to allow the ocean to heal and replenish its populations of fish after decades of overfishing by commerical enterprises from around the world.
“Remengesau said Pacific island nations, which are also struggling to deal with climate change, were effectively “the conscience of the world" on environmental matters and had to lead by example because of their special connection with the ocean,” says Neil Sands for AFP.
“The ocean is our way of life,” Remengesau told journalists. “It sustains and nurtures us, provides us with the basics of our Pacific island cultures, our very identities.”
Remengesau added that sharks offered more value to Palau as eco-tourism assets, saying that a 2011 study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science concluded that a single reef shark could raise almost US$2 million for the local economy over 10 years thanks to the tourists that visit it. Figures put the tourism industry as being almost 30 times more lucrative to Palau than the commercial tuna industry. No attacks have ever occurred as the operators are careful to make sure everyone keeps a safe distance from the sharks.
“We feel that a live shark is worth a thousand times more than a dead one," Remengesau said.