Monday , February 26 2024

Critically endangered sawfish and vulnerable silky shark gain additionalprotection in the Caribbean

Last week Caribbean nations agreed to add two more species to the Annexes of the Specially Protected Areasand Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol, the only trans-national legal instrument for the environment of the Caribbean. At the insistence of the Kingdom of theNetherlands, regional SPAW member governments unanimously decided to recommend largetooth sawfish and silky shark for (obligatory) protection under SPAW.

“We are very pleased that our proposals could count on so much support,” said Paul Hoetjes, of Coordinator of nature policy for the Caribbean Netherlands of the DutchMinistry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality ( LNV). “Through the SPAWprotocol, signatory countries have made firm commitments to ensure theprotection of these unique animals.”

Just this week, a study was published classing the Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) as the elasmobranch* species most in danger of extinction in . Human activities like overfishing and destruction of vital habitats such as coral reefs and mangrove forests have caused this decline. In the case of Silky Sharks the numbers have been severely reduced by overfishing around the world and protection is now needed to prevent further decline.

Largetooth saw fish Pristis_pristis
copyright Simon Fraser University – University Communications_sm

The Dutch elasmobranch Association (NEV) worked closely with the Ministry of LNV, providing the scientific input for the proposals and ensuring they were aligned with other international standards. 

Irene Kingma, director of the NEV: “In 2015 we started working with the Kingdom of the Netherlands on protection of sharks and rays under SPAW. We are very happy to continue this partnership with the formulation of the proposals for these iconic species.”

Silky shark
photo Guido Leurs

“We are elated to see that these two very important species can now gain legal protection in the Caribbean Sea and look forward to the listing of additional species, making the Caribbean a global safe-haven for elasmobranchs,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, leader of the Save our Sharks Project of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, funded bythe Dutch Post Code Lottery.

The adoption of the proposalis an important first step toward permanent inclusion on the protocol. In March the final decision will take place at the SPAW Conference of the Parties after which the protection will come into force. 

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*Sharks and rays belong to the subclass of the elasmobranchs (cartilaginous fish). 

Elasmobranchs help to keep our marine ecosystems healthy and productive. As large predatory fish sharks and rays deliver a vital contribution to the preservation of the natural balance in the ocean, the biodiversity and its sustainable function. All available evidence shows that the number of sharks in the Caribbean region has declined sharply, a development that reflects the large decline in shark populations worldwide. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that currently one quarter of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, mainly due to overfishing and disappearing habitats.


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