On September 16th, 2015, Commissioner Chris Johnson, presented the official declaration establishing the “Yarari” Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary to representatives of the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF). The declaration was handed over to Parks Manager Kai Wulf and Saba Bank Science Officer Dahlia Hassell.
Sharks are the keystone of healthy oceans, and although local fishermen don’t specifically target them, sharks are under severe threat globally. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed yearly worldwide, and the consequences may also have an impact on our livelihoods. The WWF Living Planet Report 2014 outlines that global fish stocks declined by 50% in the last 40 years. During the signing ceremony, State Secretary Dijksma stated: “This special sanctuary ensures the protection of these animals in the waters around Saba and Bonaire. Sharks are important not only for tourism but also for fishing. When there are more sharks, there are – contrary to what you might expect – also more fish”. Marine reserves and sanctuaries have proven effective tools to conserve and allow for the sustainable use of our marine resources. Nonetheless, while commercial fishing of sharks has been prohibited and efforts to reduce bycatch, including sharks, are underway, the declaration will not have additional regulatory restraints on Saba’s fisheries, but allow the Executive Council to implement measures when necessary. More stringent regulations can be introduced to deal with foreign vessels fishing illegally in Saban waters, as in 2013 when the Dutch Coast Guard intercepted a Venezuelan shark fishing boat.
Already last year, with funding from the WWF, the SCF engaged in bringing more attention to the plight of sharks by producing a video documentary entitled “Sharks Demystified”. The video was aired during a meeting with regional leaders in Bimini, organized by the Pew Charitable Trust in February, and supported by Sir Richard Branson. Both, Commissioner Johnson and SCF Manager Wulf attended that meeting, which was highly successful and sparked the initiative to spearhead the establishment of the shark sanctuary.
Press release GIS Saba