Sen. Gatchalian Notes Sharp Decline in Shark Populations

Sen. Gatchalian Notes Sharp Decline in Shark Populations

Sen. Win Gatchalian (Inset)

By Tracy Cabrera                                                  

AN unprecedented global survey showing the sharp decline of shark populations in the world has lent support to a proposed bill previously filed by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian that bans the catching, sale, purchase, possession, transportation, importation and exportation of all sharks and rays or any part thereof in the country.

The new landmark study published today in Nature by Global FinPrint reveals sharks are absent on many of the world’s coral reefs, indicating they are too rare to fulfill their normal role in the ecosystem, and have become “functionally extinct.”

Of the 371 reefs surveyed in 58 countries, sharks were not observed on nearly 20 percent, indicating a widespread decline that has gone undocumented on this scale until now. The survey also identified conservation measures that could lead to recovery of these iconic predators.

Gatchalian explained that although sharks and rays have not been officially declared endangered, their population has drastically declined over the years not only because of environmental decline but more importantly, over-fishing for human consumption.

“The Philippines is known as the center of marine biodiversity, having about two-thirds of the known marine species of the Pacific living in its coastal waters. Sharks as predators of the sea, play a vital role in regulating the ecological balance, particularly the health of important commercial fish species, population balance and protection of coral reefs. As such, our country plays a crucial role in protecting these marine species,” he pointed out.

“Despite their importance, these sea creatures have been hunted by humans for their meat and fins. CNN and a conservation group called Shark Savers state that, ‘Up to 100 million sharks are killed annually. With some shark populations declining by as much as 90 percent’,” the senator added.

Numerous laws have been put in place to protect our environment and its flora and fauna. The 1987 Constitution provides that, “the State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

Domestic Law, particularly RA 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act also provides that, “it shall be the policy of the State to conserve the country’s wildlife resources, their habitats and sustainability,” and shall work towards and initiate scientific studies towards enhancement of biological diversity.

Said law also recognizes our commitment to international conventions for the protection of wildlife and their habitats, such as the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which the Philippines ratified in August 1981.

Said Convention seeks to ensure that the survival of wild animals and plants are not threatened due to international trade. It also designates flora and fauna in separate appendices according to the threat of extinction, shark species being described as either threatened with extinction or those whose trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization that is incompatible with their survival.

The Fisheries Code or RA8550 also declares it the policy of the State to achieve “conservation, protection and sustained management of the country’s fishery and aquatic resources,” while E.O. no. 578 makes it a policy to protect and conserve biodiversity of ecosystems, species and genes. As they reproduce slowly, they are in danger of becoming extinct if we do not proactively protect them.

While the results might appear disheartening, however, survey researchers said there are some bright spots.

“There are reservoirs of hope,” said Mike Heithaus, co-author of the study and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education at Florida International University.

“There are places where reef sharks are doing well that could repopulate and rebuild in these areas that are degraded,” he disclosed in a press briefing.

Banning harmful fishing practices, imposing catch limits, closing areas to fishing and creating shark sanctuaries could all help restore shark populations, the authors said. But they emphasized the need for solutions that fit particular circumstances—for example where fishing communities rely on shark fishing to survive.

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