By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Hammerheads are among hundreds of species found in Palau's waters
Palau is to create the world's first "shark sanctuary", banning all
commercial shark fishing in its waters.
The President of the tiny Pacific republic, Johnson Toribiong, announced the
sanctuary during Friday's session of the UN General Assembly.
With half of the world's oceanic sharks at risk of extinction,
conservationists regard the move as "game-changing".
It will protect about 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles) of ocean, an area
about the size of France.
President Toribiong also called for a global ban on shark-finning, the
practice of removing the fins at sea.
The need to protect the sharks outweighs the need to enjoy a bowl of soup
President Johnson Toribiong.
Fins are a lucrative commodity on the international market where they are
bought for use in shark fin soup.
As many as 100 million sharks are killed each year around the world.
"These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of
extinction unless we take positive action to protect them," said President
"Their physical beauty and strength, in my opinion, reflects the health of
the oceans; they stand out," he told BBC News from UN headquarters in New
The president also called for an end to bottom-trawling, a fishing method
that can destroy valuable seafloor ecosystems such as coral reefs.
A number of developed nations have implemented catch limits and restrictions
on shark finning.
Some developing countries such as The Maldives have also taken measures to
protect the creatures; but Palau's initiative takes things to a new level,
according to conservationists close to the project.
"Palau has recognised how important sharks are to healthy marine
environments," said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the
Pew Environment Group.
"And they've decided to do what no other nation has done and declare their
entire Exclusive Economic Zone a shark sanctuary.
"They are leading the world in shark conservation."
Mr Rand said that about 130 threatened species of shark frequented waters
close to Palau and would be likely to gain from the initiative.
Although the country has only 20,000 inhabitants, its territory encompasses
200 scattered islands, which means that its territorial waters are much
bigger than many nations a thousand times more populous.
Economics is clearly an incentive for the Palau government, which derives
most of its income from tourism.
Sharks are themselves a big attraction for scuba-divers, and may also play a
role in keeping coral reef ecosystems healthy.
See entire article at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8272508.stm