South Africa will be at the spearpoint of a brand new initiative to save critically endangered sharks and rays over the next three years and beyond.
Last week saw the launch of “Shark Attack”, a 3-year shark & ray protection effort with the goal of improving the status of threatened sharks and rays in South Africa. The wholistic Project focuses on knowledge improvement, increased legal protections, support and training for effective implementation of conservation measures, as well as advocacy and awareness to spur citizen action and support decision-makers in ensuring these valuable ecological assets survive into the next decade.
“Without immediate action, many of the large sharks in the world will face global extinction in the coming decade. South Africa is a top 3 global hotspot for shark and ray diversity, harbouring 204 species and one-third of the global fauna. 69 of these species are endemic to South Africa, meaning they are unique to our waters – and something we should celebrate and be proud of,” explained Campaign Lead Lauren van Nijkerk of Wildoceans. “The campaign has a big job to do in also trying to shift the negative perceptions that exist around sharks, exacerbated by media and films like jaws or ‘The Meg’.”
But this is not just a PR exercise as the campaign has been joined by a number of big-hitters in the world of oceanographic conservation. The team includes Karen Sack, CEO and President of Ocean Unite, an international NGO at the forefront of driving action to address the climate and biodiversity crises by highly protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 and building ocean resilience, Markus Burgener is a Senior Programme Coordinator with TRAFFIC Southern Africa, a leading Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, and Sonja Fordham, who as the founder and President of Shark Advocates International has been a leader in shark conservation for more than two decades.
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In fact, the team at Shark Attack is backed up by an absolutely stunning array of international and local expertise that among their number also includes Sonja Meintjes, Sven Kerwath, Judy Beaumont and critically Charlene da Silva from the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. The latter’s involvement shows the government’s willingness to help protect these rare animals, which have become an important part of not only the country’s ecological diversity, but also tourism industry.
“Forget Jaws, it’s the sharks that are under attack. We kill over 100 million sharks every year as bycatch or for their meat and fins. As top ocean predators – not to mention lucrative tourist attractions – sharks are worth far more alive than dead; it should not take their extinction for us to figure that out. Sharks and rays need local sanctuaries, regional management, international protection, and changing cultural perceptions of products like shark fin soup and ray gill plates if these magnificent animals are to survive,” said Sack.
The dream is immense, and aims to ensure the future of these animals through every facet available from creating additional marine reservation space to educating the public on the importance of sharks and rays for their future.
“Greater transparency, data-sharing and international collaboration are crucial for good stewardship of our global ocean – to fight illegal fishing, to protect fish stocks and livelihoods, and to increase the safety and well-being of fishers,” said Tony Long, CEO, Global Fishing Watch. “Publicly-available data and tracking of fishing vessels can advance ocean research, and act as a powerful deterrent to illicit activity, reducing the burden on enforcement efforts.”