The St. Maarten Nature Foundation works on shark conservation through the “Save Our Sharks” project from the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA). The project aims to create safe havens for sharks in Dutch Caribbean waters. The Nature Foundation focuses on the protection of the St. Maarten shark population by performing scientific research, communicating with politicians and fishermen and educating the public about sharks. The Save Our Sharks project is financed by the Dutch zipcode lottery.
Sharks are the most misunderstood species on the planet as they are repeatedly displayed as villains and being dangerous; however they are actually the victims of humans poaching, finning, overfishing and coastal development activities. Humans kill about 100 million sharks every year, if we continue many shark species will go extinct. Oceans without sharks will have unpredictable and presumably negative impacts for marine life, fisheries and islands, as we depend on our oceans. It is our responsibility to act upon this problem.
The Nature Foundation conducts scientific research in the waters of St. Maarten to provide insight into behavior, growth and movement patterns of several shark species. Little is known about the current state of shark populations, even less is known about which areas they use as nursery and feeding grounds. This kind of information is essential if we are going to ensure the long-term protection of sharks and rays in our waters.
During a scientific research workup, sharks are caught, tagged, measured and safely released back in the water. The Nature Foundation uses different kind of tags to track sharks.
For highly migratory species, such as tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), satellite tags are used to discover their migration patterns in the wider Caribbean and beyond. These tags transmit to satellites and can determine the shark movements with pinpoint accuracy when breaking the surface.
Acoustic transmitters and receivers are used to research local movement patterns for Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii), nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and juvenile tiger sharks. An acoustic transmitter sends out unique signals which are detected in a range of 500m by an underwater acoustic receiver.
All sharks receive a PIT tag, Passive Integrated Transponder, which acts essentially as a lifetime barcode, allowing scientists to receive information by recapture. Veterinarians also use this type of tag to ‘microchip’ pets, like cats and dogs.
During the Shark Conservation Symposium on the June 15th 2016, the St. Maarten Government announced a shark sanctuary in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). This means that sharks are now long-term protected on St. Maarten, which is a great step forward in shark and nature conservation and eco-tourism.
Awareness and Education
A very relevant part of the Save our Sharks project is education, communication and awareness, to show the importance of sharks for our reefs, island and tourism. Through shark related activities, events, school visits and outreach the Foundation stresses out the importance of sharks for our island life and creates awareness about their rapid decline.
The local community often thinks that sharks eat people. This is a misunderstanding. We are not on the menu for sharks, sharks do not eat people. Occasionally, shark bites do happen; on average five people per year die of an injury caused by a shark bite. It is more likely that you get killed by a coconut falling on your head than by a shark. (Source)
Around the globe numerous shark related products are sold, such as shark fin soup, shark steaks, shark oil and shark cartilage, these products contribute greatly to the slaughter and finning of sharks. The Nature Foundation tries to prevent the sale of shark products in St Maarten, selling these products are pushing sharks to the brink of extinction.
There is also no accepted scientific evidence showing any positive health benefits of shark fin soup or shark products. The promotion of these products is a marketing strategy; in fact studies show that shark has among the highest levels of the toxic methylmercury and other dangerous toxins and can cause serious negative health effects. Therefore, the Nature Foundation advices not to consume or purchase any shark related product.
How Can You Help?
- Like the Save Our Sharks NL Facebook page
- Check out the Save our Sharks website for more information
If you like what the Nature Foundation does for Sint Maarten and you can’t help out as a volunteer on some of our programs, please consider making a voluntary donation to help us continue what we do.