Curaçao Prepares to Host Community and Policy Action for Sharks 

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Caribbean reef sharks photographed around the Dutch Carribean island of St Maarten (Photo: Jim Abernethy/DCNA)

The Caribbean island of Curaçao is poised to play a huge part in the future survival of endangered shark species in 2019, with the island due to host both the Annual Curaçao International Dive Festival as well as the 26th annual meeting of ICCAT, the international fishery management body responsible for overseeing commercial fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean.

As part of the Festival, to be held between 29 September and 5 October 2019, Project AWARE, the international non-profit organization working to create positive change for the ocean through local and global action, will be launching a newly revised shark conservation course for the diving community.

Project AWARE partners in Curaçao currently participate in ongoing Dive Against Debris surveys, where dive operators across the country record and report critical data on marine debris found on the seabed to ensure the health of the country’s marine habitats. This year, they will also be focusing on some of the most vulnerable species in the ocean: sharks.

'Curaçao could potentially play a huge effort in reducing unsustainable fishing on endangered shark species, especially mako sharks,' said Ian Campbell, Project AWARE’s Associate Director of Policy and Campaigns. 'In October, we’ll be launching our newly revised Project AWARE Shark Specialty for the diving community which will include lots of information on the main threats facing many shark species, but also what divers and the wider community of ocean lovers can do to be part of the solution, including taking part in Project AWARE’s citizen science initiatives.'

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Curaçao's dive centres and guests regularly participate in Project AWARE initiatives around the island (Photo: Bryan Horne/Dive Curaçao)

'The Curaçao International Dive Festival is a huge event that brings together like-minded ocean lovers for a week of festivities focused on protecting the ocean, and then, a few weeks later, government representatives from fifty-two countries will meet here to discuss fishing quotas for Atlantic tuna and other species including Mako sharks,' said Bryan Horne, creator and founder of the Dive Curaçao Network. 'The ministers making these decisions are all public servants, and we want to ensure that they hear, loud and clear, the message that the Curaçao community and international dive community want them to hear.'

ICCAT, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, is responsible for managing tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding areas, and the annual meeting will be held in Curaçao between 18 – 25 November.

'ICCAT fishery managers have continued to neglect their responsibility to manage catches of Mako sharks, with the Atlantic populations recently being downgraded to “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,' said Ian Campbell. 'It’s time they started listening to the public and impose a ban on catching these species before it’s too late.'

Tadzio Bervoets, former Chair of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and project lead for the Dutch Caribbean Save our Sharks Project echoed Horne and Campbell’s statements mentioning the importance of protecting sharks on Curacao and the Caribbean Region as a whole: 'The Caribbean Sea, in general, is a biodiversity hotspot for sharks in the Atlantic Basin,' he said. 'During our research initiatives, we have tagged sharks with satellite transmitters in the north-eastern Caribbean that have migrated all the way south to the northern coast of Venezuela. This research shows that the species using the whole Caribbean basin as a migratory pathway, highlighting the importance of regional conservation for some of the most threatened apex predators in the ocean.'

'All conservation practitioners look forward to the ICCAT meeting as well as participating in the Curacao International Dive Festival working both on increasing regional and international conservation measures of the species while simultaneously engaging the diving community to lobby for the protection of these species which are so critically important for the Caribbean Sea and wider Atlantic Basin,' Mr Bervoets added.


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