Shark Stewards Joins Shark Alliance to Protect Sharks and Rays in Borneo

A coalition of shark conservation organizations and businesses including US based Shark Stewards have joined forces to create the Sabah Shark Alliance to protect Malaysian sharks and rays. Home to over 62 species of sharks and rays, including several species living only in Borneo, overfishing, habitat loss and the shark fin trade in the region are threatening these animals vital to the health of the marine ecosystem and local economy.

Species of sharks that live only in the waters of Borneo such as the Borneo river shark and roughnose stingray are very rare and could be on the verge of extinction, while other species, such as those recorded in sighting surveys by divers in the Semporna region over the past four years, face the same dire threat.

Shark Stewards is excited to join this local alliance of Malaysian NGOs to combine our efforts educating Malaysians about the shark fin trade, stopping the killing of sharks and rays and support responsible shark and dive ecotourism in Sabah,” said David McGuire, Director of the US Based non profit Shark Stewards.
Against a backdrop of market surveys that indicate large sharks are declining in Malaysian waters, strengthened with estimates from scientists that 100 million sharks are being over fished or killed for their fins worldwide every year, the Sabah Shark Alliance (SSA) is working towards an action plan to protect sharks and rays in waters off this northern Borneo state.

The SSPC has proposed three strategies that include establishing new marine protected areas and/or expanding such sites; banning the capture, trade and/or consumption of sharks and rays apart from promoting best practices in the fishing industry by strengthening law and policy; and increasing awareness on the plight of sharks and rays and the impacts from the shark fin trade. Through the strategy related to marine protection areas, objectives cover securing official recognition of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area, including a focus on Si Amil and Ligitan islands and ensuring greater support for other important areas for sharks and rays in Sabah such as Layang-Layang and Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA).

The second strategy will see the Alliance working towards deepening the legal analysis to focus on the legal status and options relevant to the capture and finning, trade and consumption of sharks and rays, and preparing a brief that presents lessons learnt on how other countries have dealt with these activities.

Through the final strategy, the Alliance wants to raise awareness and provide technical support to the government with a focus on the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and to work with the tourism sector, including restaurants and dive operators, consumers and local communities and fishermen.

The SSPC is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

In a statement yesterday, the SSA said as apex predators, sharks play an extremely critical role in the health and balance of ocean ecosystems with overfishing creating a top-down ‘trophic cascade’ that disrupts marine ecosystems worldwide.

It pointed out an economic study indicates that the value of one shark generated by dive ecotourism in Semporna is over USD800,000 (RM2.9 million) a year, and that ecotourism is a major product for the state increasing over 17 per cent last year compared to 2013.

“Drawn by healthy coral reefs and large fish like sharks, dive tourism is a growth industry in Sabah, particularly in Semporna. Sharks are essential to the health of Malaysian reefs and living sharks and rays provide a significant motivation for dive tourism and contribution to the country’s economy,” McGuire said.

Studies show that over one third of all large oceanic shark species like hammerheads in Malaysian waters are threatened with extinction. Through imports, processing and exports, Malaysia is contributing to the decline of sharks and rays in national and international waters.

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