Palau’s Sharks – Plight to Protection

Most trek to Palau to behold beneath its sea. Become a certified diver? Check. My EPA dive team colleagues warned it would be hard to top, until I’m diving off Massachusetts this summer I can’t say, but I’ve likely been completely spoiled.

I started caring about animals far earlier than usual. Natural instincts were supplemented by growing up outside catching pollywogs, and when indoors, watching a 1980s, taped, National Geographic special on whales and sharks, incessantly… (Where scientists test which wetsuit colors attract Jaws the most, I think it was a tie, and divers caress sleeping Tiger sharks?!) While Palau didn’t have whales, it is the first country to create a shark sanctuary throughout its marine territory; and thank goodness.

We probably saw 50 sharks on the trip, I lost count. White tip, black tip, grey reef! I never felt threatened as they gently swam by. Diving Blue Corner, seeing these beautiful creatures, catching a glimpse into their behavior, just feet away took my breath away. I wanted to dive deeper and watch them for hours.

I heard of shark finning, seen atrocious images, but it really hit me there. How unnecessary to destroy these fascinating animals? Palau’s shark population and diversity had been devastated by foreign vessels, but heroic efforts in the community over the past decade helped the government enact some of the toughest shark protection legislation in the world.

Concerned Palauans had Ron Leidich’s help (told you he knows his stuff) along with Noah Idechong, Delegate to Palau’s National Congress and founding member of the Palau Conservation Society. Local efforts were aided by the help of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” Both Ron and marine biologist Ethan Daniels helped the film crew capture the plight of Palau’s threatened shark population by surprising a foreign vessel with holds full of shark carcasses and fins. While it wasn’t yet illegal, the ship falsely declared the cargo as “tuna and other permitted catch” to Palau Customs officials. This captured for the world to see, caused international outcry and support to protect Palau’s top, living, attraction. Dermot Keane, another friendly face at Sam’s Tours, who we met after diving went on to launch the Palau Shark Sanctuary in November 2001, to continue the fight to end shark finning in Palau and around the world.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, EPA New England, on detail, EPA’s Office of Web Communications.