St Maarten Nature Foundation
In 1997, we were delighted to announce the creation of THE MAN OF WAR SHOAL MARINE PARK. Congratulations to all the staff and supporters of Nature Foundation St Maarten on this pivotal achievement.
Protecting sharks in the Dutch Caribbean
Sharks have roamed our oceans since the time of the dinosaurs, but
without our help, their long reign may be coming to an end. The onset of
industrial fishing and the lucrative market for shark fins in China and
the Far East have drastically depleted their numbers. Additionally,
many sharks depend on shallow coastal environments for part of their
life cycles and this makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects
of coastal development. They are also the victim of poor public opinion,
branded as mindless bloodthirsty monsters, and seen by fishermen as a
competitor and pest. The result of this is that the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently estimates that
one-quarter of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.
Marine Protected Areas (parks) have been established throughout the
Dutch Caribbean to protect the islands’ marine environment but few of
them specifically protect the 25 species of shark found in Dutch Caribbean waters.
Bonaire was the first island to introduce legislation to protect
sharks; in 2010 it adopted a list of protected species, which included
all sharks and rays.
The ‘Man of War Shoal’ Marine Park on St. Maarten became the first
marine park to introduce legislation specifically for shark
conservation. In October 2011, the Government of St. Maarten issued a temporary moratorium
on shark fishing within the Man of War Shoal Marine Park, which
prohibits the taking and landing of sharks and requires immediate
release of incidentally caught sharks under penalty of a maximum of
500,000 Antillean Guilders or 3 months in prison.
The next landmark event came in October 2015 when Dutch State
Secretary, Sharon Dijksma, announced the establishment of the Dutch
Caribbean’s first shark sanctuary. Known as the Yarari Marine Mammal and
Shark Sanctuary, it encompasses the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of
Bonaire and Saba, including the prestigious Saba Bank, and covers a
combined area of 22,382 square kilometers (8,816 square miles). The
Yarari Sanctuary was established by a joint Declaration
of the State Secretary of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands and the
island Governments of Saba and Bonaire in response to official requests
in 2015 by the Governors of the two islands to include protection for
sharks within the Sanctuary.
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs is preparing a Management Plan
for the Sanctuary, which will include regulations to prohibit purse
seining, gill-netting and long-lining, as well as targeted commercial
fishing for sharks and rays, and particularly the removal of fins (shark
finning). Management of the Yarari Sanctuary will be carried out in
close cooperation with the AGOA Marine Mammal Sanctuary, established in
2012, which includes the French Caribbean waters surrounding Guadeloupe,
Martinique, St. Barths and St. Martin.
In June 2016 St. Maarten’s Prime Minister announced the inclusion of
St. Maarten’s waters in the Sanctuary with a prohibition on all
commercial shark fishing. The Government of Curaçao simultaneously
announced its commitment to shark conservation and vows to establish
legislation to protect sharks in its waters within the year. If the
Dutch Caribbean jurisdictions of St. Eustatius and Aruba follow suit,
the entire Dutch Caribbean could soon be recognized as a regional shark
There are only 14 shark sanctuaries in the world, covering
approximately 6 million square miles, with the first Sanctuary
established in Palau in the Western Pacific, in 2009. Half of the shark
sanctuaries are currently located within the Caribbean, including three
in the Dutch Caribbean: Honduras (est. 2011), Bahamas (est. 2011),
British Virgin Islands (est. 2014), Bonaire (est. 2015), Saba (est.
2015), Cayman Islands (est. 2016), and St. Maarten (est. 2016).More information on the marine park.