On September 2nd, the Dutch government announced that the waters surrounding its former Caribbean colonies of Bonaire and Saba will become shark sanctuaries, wherein the animals will be entirely protected. The sanctuaries will cover the entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the islands, a total of close to 9,000 square miles.
An EEZ is defined as a sea zone measured out from the coast of a nation, over which it has special economic rights regarding the use of the area’s resources. All coastal nations have various rights to their waters, depending on the distance from land. A nation’s territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles from land, wherein they have full claim of the sea, above and below the surface. From 12 to 24 nautical miles is the contiguous zone, where the nation has certain privileges above and below the surface, but not as many as in territorial water. Up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline is the EEZ, where the nation has no privileges above the surface as this is deemed international waters, but does have rights when it comes to resources at depth, including fishing. These are the rights that the Dutch government is now leveraging to create the shark sanctuaries.
The shark sanctuaries will be the 11th and 12th worldwide where sharks are fully protected from fishing and culling. Actions such as these are desperately needed, as the majority of known shark species are, to some extent, endangered, and 30 percent are considered at risk of extinction.
The decision by the Dutch government comes after a campaign by the local authorities, including a Dutch Shark Week, during which they called for shark protection in their local waters. The islands are home to 27 shark species, which will now be protected by the new sanctuaries.
Both Saba and Bonaire are well-known for scuba diving, and thusly dive tourism, so protecting the sharks makes not only conservation sense but economic sense as well. A 2011 study conducted in Palau calculated that each shark in those waters is worth a whopping $1.9 million in tourism income, compared to only $108 when caught and sold in fish markets.
“Congratulations to the Dutch government and the island governments of Bonaire and Saba for raising the Caribbean’s high bar for shark protections,” said Luke Warwick, who directs the Pew Charitable Trust’s global shark conservation project. “Economic studies have demonstrated that sharks are worth far more alive than dead. Guarding sharks around these islands is beneficial, not only for the future of these ecologically important species, but also for protecting the islands’ tourism-based economies.”