Live from CITES CoP17, 9-28-16

jason4

jason4

Yesterday evening saw a standing-room only presentation on how sharks can provide an ecotourism base that lifts rural communities in developing countries out of poverty, strengthens conservation within those communities, and instills resilience even in the face of natural disasters.  “CITES, Sharks and Sustainable Livelihoods” featured a panel including photographer Steve de Neef, and representatives from Project Sharklink, Save Philippine Seas, and the Government of the Maldives.  One country featured in the symposium, the Philippines, has many successful grass-roots ecotourism ventures.  The town of Malapascua is an example of sustainable tourism, with numerous diving operations revolving around the thresher sharks that frequent Monad Shoal, the most reliable place to see these animals in the world.  The Malapascua shark diving operations are run by the local population, with many young people training as dive guides.  Tourist dollars also benefit the community through housing, restaurant business, and income to local craftsmen.  People within the community have a strong sense of ownership of “their” sharks, and patrol the reef to protect the sharks from outside fishermen.  A good ecotourism base can buffer communities against natural events as well, and the Malapascua dive operation aided recovery after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013.  Within days after the typhoon, while surrounding communities were still digging out, tourist boats were again providing income that allowed a faster recovery.  Even in this environment, however, thresher sharks are still being killed in the Philippines - it is difficult to fully guard a wide-ranging species against regional fishing pressure.  The shark meat is sold extremely cheaply in Philippine markets, but the real profit comes from the fins, which are exported and return no money to the community.  This symposium provided strong support for CITES Proposal 43, which would move all three species of thresher shark to CITES Appendix II.  (Thanks to Jason Isley for the great photo.)