We need more international support for the protection of sharks and rays

Populations of many shark and ray species have been continuously in decline, and their habitat has been further shrinking.

I've just come back from the Sharks International Conference, the world's biggest scientific conference on sharks in Durban, South Africa. I learned many new things, and I was given the opportunity to present IFAW's work on shark conservation. For years we've been working to convince governments to improve protection of sharks and rays under international conventions. My presentation was received with great interest, and I was able to make some useful new contacts.

The latest scientific findings, e.g. about some migratory paths of sharks, genetic relationships or reproduction of the species, will also be helpful for my work in the future. However, it was obvious that many aspects of shark biology are still widely unknown. Only a few years ago it has been found out that the whale shark, the biggest fish on the planet measuring up to 20 meters, doesn't lay eggs, but gives birth to live pups.

The conference also shed light on the disastrous situation of sharks and rays: Populations of many shark and ray species have been continuously in decline, and their habitat has been further shrinking. The hammerhead shark population in the Mediterranean has been decimated by 99%. Sawfishes and their relatives, the devil ray species, including the majestic reef manta, are also highly threatened.

That's why some governments have finally committed to increase protection for these species. The small Pacific insular state Fiji has filed a proposal to protect eleven devil fish species under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Kenya filed a proposal for the protection of five sawfish species.

If the 120 member states accept the proposals, they are obliged by international law to protect the species - a step that in my opinion has been long overdue. There are also proposals that asked for increased international cooperation to improve the conservation status for the three thresher shark species, two hammerhead shark species and the silky shark

Especially the highly threatened hammerhead shark species need more protection in order to survive. Unfortunately, no country has so far been brave enough to call for a complete protection of these shark species within CMS. This might be due to the fact that the subject is politically too controversial, since the species are heavily hunted and commercially exploited by the fishing industry.

In the coming months IFAW will work very hard to convince governments to accept the proposals and to improve shark protection.

The extinction of majestic species like the hammerhead shark or the manta ray would cause a substantial loss to our marine ecosystems whose further ecological consequences are unpredictable.

--RS

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