Sailors for the Sea Publishes May Ocean Watch Essay Saving Sharks One Fin at a Time

University of Miami's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program contributes essay; notes one in three species of shark face two major threats of extinction - overfishing and consumer demand for shark fins

 

Newport, Rhode Island - May 3, 2012 Sailors for the Sea, the only ocean conservation nonprofit focused on the sailing and boating community, today published its MayOcean Watch Essay "Saving Sharks: One Fin at a Fin," which focuses on the threat of extinction to one in three species of pelagic sharks. Sailors for the Sea extends a special thank you to University of Miami's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, contributors of this month's essay that notes the threat of extinction is due primarily to overfishing and consumer demand for shark fins, the key ingredient in shark fin soup - an Asian delicacy and status symbol.  

Sharks, a diverse group of over 400 species ranging in size from six inches to 40 feet in length, play a vital role in the health of marine ecosystems, as each species has evolved special adaptations to their environment that have helped them to survive since before dinosaurs. These apex predators live at the top of the food web and maintain the health and balance of the marine ecosystem. Changes in their abundance or behavior can have cascading effects across the entire marine community. Rampant overfishing and needless killing is causing dramatic declines in shark populations worldwide.

The essay identifies two main causes of the dramatic decline in shark populations worldwide - rampant overfishing and the needless killing of sharks for their fins, which are colorless, tasteless and odorless, to make shark fin soup. This Asian delicacy serves as a status symbol or cultural sign of wealth as a single bowl of shark fin soup can cost well over $100.

Progressive nations, such as Palau that declared its waters a "shark sanctuary" making shark harvesting illegal, are placing a greater value on protecting sharks. Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, research assistant professor at the University of Miami, and his graduate student, Austin Gallagher, conducted a global analysis of all shark diving ecotourism and determined that the growing tourism industry generates more money to local economies than does the killing of sharks for their fins to make soup (Gallagher & Hammerschlag 2011). In Palau it is estimated that one individual living reef shark is worth $1.9 million in ecotourism versus $108 if killed for its fins.

Research, Education, Laws and Suggestions for Protecting Shark Populations |
The RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (RJD) at the University of Miami is working to protect global shark species through innovative scientific research, and hands-on field and virtual learning experiences to graduate, undergraduate, high school students. Over the past six years, RJD has provided almost 4,000 students with real in-field research experiences, while reaching global populations through its online interactive website (http://www.rjd.miami.edu). The RJD Program's research and education work, led by Hammerschlag, is generating unique solutions to help conserve threatened shark populations.

According to Dan Pingaro, executive director and CEO, Sailors for the Sea, "Research, education, and laws are strong components to helping to protect any species facing the danger of extinction. The disappearance of just one species of shark can have a lasting and devastating impact on the marine environment as well as local economies. As sailors, it's our responsibility to look at the entire marine ecosystem and work towards effecting changes in behavior that will provide positive results to improving ocean health. We applaud and support the work being conducted at the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program and encourage others to embrace their efforts."

Hammerschlag and colleagues from the University of Miami recently completed a study that revealed a connection between consumption of shark fins (and other parts) and an increased risk of contracting neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS. Shark fins contain high concentrations of a neurotoxin called BMAA, short for â-N-methylamino-L-alanine (Mondo 2012), which has been linked to these diseases. The study, which has generated tremendous scientific, media and public attention, will hopefully lower the demand for shark fins and help protect people from these neurodegenerative diseases.

A surge of laws designed to protect shark populations and habitats have been enacted across the globe. They include:

  • September 2009 - Palau created the first national shark sanctuary.
  • December 2010 - The United States passed the Shark Conservation Act which bans shark finning in US waters.
  • June 2011 - Honduras created a shark sanctuary protecting sharks along both their Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
  • July 2011 - The Bahamas banned all commercial shark fishing.
  • 2011-2012 A ban on selling shark fins has either passed or has legislation pending in California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.  

Consumers can help by:

  • Not eating shark fin soup and avoid patronizing restaurants that serve shark fin soup
  • Support ocean conservation by making a donation to Sailors for the Sea
  • Adopt-a-shark (satellite tag a shark and track it online)
  • Don't buy shark products (ie. shark jaws, shark cartilage pills)
  • Utilize best fishing practices (ie. Responsible catch and release, use of circle hooks)
  • Get involved, tell your friends, write your congressional representatives.
  • Educate yourself: SharkSavers.org and RJD
  • Keep updated on shark conservation & research - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter
  • Share what you have learned and spread the word to protect sharks - tell your friends, write your congressional representatives

More about the Ocean Watch Essay Program
The Ocean Watch Essay program, a free online resource accessible through the Sailors for the Sea website, provides a constant stream of updated articles on current ocean issues such as ocean acidification, plastics, nonpoint source pollution, and invasive species. Each essay is accompanied by information on how individuals can make a difference in relation to the issue, creating a linkage from knowledge to personal action. Whenever possible, the program also provides information about activities, events, and opportunities, such as lectures, classes, and beach and ocean water clean ups, for people to take action to preserve, protect, and improve the health of the ocean and coastal waters.

About Sailors for the Sea 
Founded in 2004, Sailors for the Sea is a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers the boating community to protect and restore our oceans and local waters. For more information or to participate in any of the Sailors for the Sea programs, or to become a member and support the organization, visit www.sailorsforthesea.org.