The value of sharks

Saba

My name is Francois Mille, I am a Marine Park Ranger at STENAPA in Sint Eustatius.

Sint Eustatius is a small volcanic island, 21km2, that belongs to the Dutch Kingdom. It was incorporated into the Netherlands in October 2010. There are about 3’500 souls living there. It is a dormant stratovolcano. The second highest mountain of the Netherlands.

Stenapa stands for St Eustatius National Park Foundation.  We manage 3 protected area and a botanical garden, which correspond to 33km2. Bigger than the island itself!

My role in the expedition involves various tasks. In the morning I hopped on the Queen Beatrix 2, the support boat. I also help placing the line in the water to catch the sharks, including baiting the hook and attaching the hook line to the main one. I really like this part because we must put the line close to each other, so you have no break in between.  At the end of the day, I prepare the equipment for the next day. They need a good rinsing because they do not like salt water. For that task I am helped by Leslie Hickerson, she is from Nature Foundation St. Maarten, so we have a good chat while doing this. Then I help whoever need helps!

But yesterday was great because I got to go on Lady Rebecca to help tag the biggest female Tiger shark, and that was great!

Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) © Daniel Norwood

Sometimes people ask me how we could help the shark population.

  • First do not eat or buy any shark related product. Some country sells fins, meat, or liver oil from sharks.
  • Second, use less plastic. We use too much plastic, a part ends up in the ocean, and animal eat them, by mistake, confusing them with prey. Or worse, they get entangled in trash and drown.
  • Third, sharks have been on earth since before the first trees appeared. It is sad to think that humans are responsible for killing most of them. That humans are pushing some species to disappear completely. When humans catch sharks for their fins, they cut the fins from the sharks while they are alive and throw them back in the sea alive! Their death is horrible.

You might wonder why it is important to care about shark. If you have been watching Jaws, you might think we need to kill them all. But the reality is far from a Hollywood movie.

Sharks are very important because they are at the top of the food chain. Imagine a pyramid, they are on top, taking care of the large fish that are one step below them. Now, imagine no more sharks: those larger fish will not be hunted, therefore they will develop a lot, maybe a bit too much. Then one day those fishes would not get any food because they eat them all. So those will start to die as well. You will then end up with several steps of pyramid that would disappear completely. Before you know it, just like that all the fish are sick and dying, all the way to the plankton, and this can happen rapidly.

Sharks are important because as predator they will hunt the weak and the sick prey. They keep the marine ecosystem in balance.

A way to help shark is to create protected areas where you cannot harm them. The Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary was established by the Dutch government in 2015 to protect sharks in the Caribbean Netherlands.  This corresponds to the 3 following islands: Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius. The purpose is to try to keep shark population steady as their numbers are on high decline.

You might be surprised but the more sharks there are, the more fish there will be.

Though we do not know everything about sharks, we do expeditions such as these. For example, we know that female tiger sharks cruise through the Saba Bank, but we do not know if they breed there.

And some fishermen with very large and long fish net catch shark by mistake. So it is important not to do that where sharks are protected.

It is important for those islands to protect the fish and it has an important economic impact.

But not only does the sanctuary protect sharks, but all the marine mammals in the area as there are dolphins and whales living there or just passing by during their migration.

 

Photos by: Daniel Norwood

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