Shark species around the world have been declining for decades due to overfishing, pollution, and other human pressures. Reef sharks in particular have been hit hard due to their habitat’s close proximity to humans.
While this might be the case in most places around the world, it’s not so in the Bahamas. Global FinPrint, the largest shark popular survey, recently praised the Bahamas as the “world-leader” in shark conservation efforts. Reef sharks and several other species have remained stable in Bahamian waters thanks to the country’s long history of forward-thinking conservation policies.
Global FinPrint credits the conservation success in the nation due to the hard work and foresight of local researchers as well as institutions such as the Bahamas National Trust and the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources. A few key reasons why the Bahamas has led conservation is that they never allowed shark fisheries to develop and quickly banned longline gear in the early 1990s. In 2011 the nation introduced the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary, which banned fishing, possession and trade of sharks and shark parts. The Bahamas was also one of the first countries to designate all of its’ waters a sanctuary for sharks.
Global FinPrint deployed video cameras with bait attached and surveyed 371 reefs in 58 nations, including 16 reefs in The Bahamas from Bimini to San Salvador. They found that, in terms of reef shark abundance, The Bahamas was the best performing nation relative to regional expectations in the wider Caribbean.
“The Shark Research and Conservation program at the Cape Eleuthera Institute has been studying sharks in The Bahamas for over 15 years and we are proud to be a part of this landmark study, showing that The Bahamas has some of the healthiest shark populations in the world.” CEI Director Dr Nick Higgs said. “The contrast with local neighbors like the Dominican Republic is striking, where reef sharks were virtually absent. And we know that it’s not because of any recent spike in shark numbers here. Another recent study by the CEI shark research teams shows that local shark populations have remained stable over the last three decades, thanks to the foresight of The Bahamas government and the Bahamas National Trust in progressing effective management of our seas over this time.”
This is great news for the Bahamas as ecotourism brings in roughly $114 million USD to the economy each year. Much of this money is spent in depressed areas like the Family Islands, including Exuma. Ecotourists such as divers, wildlife photographers, filmmakers, and scientists all flock to the region to interact with the thriving environment.
“The Bahamas is an important regional refuge for reef-associated sharks. By refusing to allow a shark fishery to develop and prohibiting destructive fishing practices such as longlines, The Bahamas is clearly a world leader in forward-thinking, economically and environmentally sustainable shark conservation, and serves as an example of how nations in the wider Caribbean can both conserve sharks and benefit from healthy shark populations.”
The Bahamas has paved the way for other countries to follow, showing how to protect natural resources and the environment while still bringing in money. Hopefully, other countries follow suit and protect vulnerable marine life like sharks.