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Wildlife Conservation Society commends Belize for protection of shark and ray population; calls for updating global strategy to protect sea predators

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2024. 2:32 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes, Dangriga: A field trip at the Glover’s Reef Marine Research Station, being conducted as part of a one-week global shark conference hosted by the Belize branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society intends to take a closer look at how Belize is bucking the worldwide trend when it comes to protection of sharks and rays.

Luke Warwick, WCS’s Director, Shark and Ray Conservation, explained to reporters today that Belize has been doing much in terms of direct protection and can teach lessons to Mesoamerica and the world through research: “Here in Belize… there is a national ray sanctuary and there are strong fisheries management measures in place for sharks, we are starting to see stabilization and recovery.” Researchers have seen nurse and reef sharks in good numbers in a site unlike any in the world.

He further compared sharks to land-based predators such as jaguars, saying they help keep the marine ecosystem clean and balanced by clearing out sick and older fish, but said they are taking “too much pressure” from humans, exacerbated by a slow rate of reproduction – two or three live births every other year after ten years’ maturity. Further research is needed to see whether oncoming climate change has altered their behavioral patterns and their position as kings of the sea.

Pammala Castillo of Costa Rica by way of Switzerland directs the WCS’ 30 by 30 initiative – a commitment to protecting 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030. The WCS is lobbying, assisting and supporting governments to enable coastal communities to manage their resources, including women, and building a new model of economic development with ‘blue’ sustainable financing.

Hoyt Peckham, WCS’ Global Director of Community Fisheries, cited Belize’s banning of fishing within a two-mile buffer of offshore atolls, which he credits with a rebound in the population of reef sharks. If sharks disappear, the regulation that exists within the reef system goes with them. An unhealthy reef offers less protection from rising coastal waters, removes a source of food and dampens the tourism product. The research being continually conducted at Glover’s will hopefully be replicated elsewhere, including outright banning gillnets, and raising equity and inclusion by ensuring protected areas are guarded and managed by their surrounding communities.

And representative of the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation Felicia Cruz said that due to the Government’s partnership with WCS, Belize has greater understanding of how to protect these species from overfishing.

 

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