Dutch Caribbean at Shark Conservation Forum

The Daily Herald writes that Bahamas–Political Leaders, Government Representatives and Conservationists from the Dutch Caribbean attended a high-level Caribbean Shark Conservation Leadership Retreat in Bimini, Bahamas last week, where significant discussions were held regarding the conservation of Sharks and Rays and the protection of the Ocean Environment in the wider-Caribbean Region. The Retreat, hosted by the PEW Charitable Trust; former President of Costa Rica and co-chair of the Global Ocean’s Commission Jose-Maria Figures and well-known businessman and environmental steward Sir Richard Branson, brought together conservation and political leaders, filmmakers and scientists from around the wider Caribbean region in order to discuss the protection and conservation of sharks and the Marine Environment.

The delegates from the Dutch Caribbean included Commissioner Chris Johnson of Saba, Commissioner Carlisle Tearr from St. Eustatius, Frank van Slobbe of Bonaire, Saba Conservation Foundation Manager Kai Wulf and St. Maarten Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets discussed, deliberated and brainstormed on topics centred on the current status of shark conservation on the Dutch islands, current research, challenges and a push for a shark sanctuary for the region.

Significant emphasis was placed on public support being critical for the successful protection of sharks. Johnson, during a breakfast session held by Sir Richard Branson, led the debate centred on education being a critical component of shark and marine conservation and screened the “Sharks Demystifi ed” documentary, initiated by Kai Wulf of the Saba Conservation Foundation. The documentary was filmed on Saba, Statia and St. Maarten and features scientists, conservationists, fishermen and divers who discuss the importance of sharks to the marine environment. Commissioner Carlisle Tearr presented Sir Richard with information on efforts on Statia and Tadzio Bervoets of St. Maarten explained shark conservation efforts on St. Maarten and will provide a detailed report to Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs who has asked for a full briefing on the meeting. Both Johnson and Tearr pledged to bring the issue of creating a shark sanctuary of their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to the local governments of Saba and Statia, a process already started this week with the assistance of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands.

Sir Richard complimented the islands for the work they have been doing in protecting sharks and conserving the ocean environment. Delegates also visited the Bimini Biological Research Station and received information on shark research efforts from renowned shark biologist Dr. Samuel Gruber. There were also several in-water interactions with Caribbean Reef and Hammerhead Sharks. As recently as 10 years ago, sharks, the apex predator of marine ecosystems, were abundant in Caribbean coastal waters. Over the past several years, however, it has been estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually and many species are now faced with extinction.

Sharks are seen globally as a charismatic species and their plight has garnered much global attention. The Dutch Caribbean, through the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, has been awarded 1.8 million euros in Dutch Lottery Project funding to expand shark conservation efforts in the region. Travel cost and participation at the meeting was completely covered by the PEW Charitable Trust.

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