Today, let us take a break from the rumble and tumble of Philippine politics to talk about marine conservation, particularly the need to protect pelagic thresher sharks (scientific name: Alopias Pelagicus). I feel strongly for this issue personally for three reasons.
First, our family hails from Romblon, a province whose economy is highly dependent on tourism and fishing industry just like the coastal communities where these thresher sharks are often seen. Second, it is not an exagerration to say that thresher sharks are facing a serious threat to their very existence due to the popularity of shark meat and fin products in the international market. And lastly, I just find it totally disturbing that there’s a big likelihood that my future son or daughter will live in a world where thresher sharks only exists in animal picture books.
The Philippines has long taken pride in its inherent marine biodiversity. In fact, ten years ago, a 2006 study conducted by the World Conservation Union titled “Global Marine Species Assessment” declared the Philippines as the world’s “Center of Marine Biodiversity,” beating out its neighbor Indonesia and as well as Australia, home to the famous Great Barrier Reef.
Even at the time, Dr. Kent Carpenter, the project’s coordinator, reiterated that the country needs to do better in implementing laws regarding marine conservation. “The Philippines has the international obligation to protect and conserve its rich marine biodiversity because if these species are lost, then the rest of the world will also be affected,” Carpenter said.
Without a doubt, one of the hallmarks of the Philippines’ great marine biodiversity is the presence of pelagic thresher sharks in various parts of the country – most notably Batangas, Palawan, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, Dauin, Negros Oriental, Panglao Island in Bohol, and the towns of Daanbantayan and Moalboal in Cebu.
Needless to say, thresher sharks are the reason why tourists, particularly divers, from all over the Philippines and around the world go to those communities. Some say the Philippines have a realistic claim to being the only country that has an established pelagic thresher shark dive industry. That is definitely a big deal for towns like Daanbantayan, whose economy is largely dependent on tourism.
And in recognition of the big contributions of sharks to many community’s tourism industry, some local government units have taken decisive steps to protect sharks. The provincial government of Cebu, for example, last year passed an ordinance penalizing the catching, possession, and trading of all shark and ray species within its territory. A related ordinance meanwhile designated the dive sites of Monad Shoal and Gato Island as a shark and ray sanctuary.
According to international marine conservation advocacy group Oceana, thresher sharks are now vulnerable to extinction due to many factors. Some are biological – it takes thresher sharks 13 years to mature, and their litter averages only two pups (not to mention that the gestation period lasts 12 months). For its part, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) emphasized that the unabated hunting of thresher sharks because of the popularity of shark meat and fin products in the international market makes the problem worse.
The situation for pelagic thresher sharks may be dire, but it is not yet irreversible. One important step toward the conservation of thresher sharks is their inclusion in Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The matter will be decided during CITES’ next Conference of Parties which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 24 to October 5, 2016.
According to Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed of IFAW, pelagic thresher sharks as well as common thresher sharks (alopias vulpinus) and big-eyed thresher sharks (alopias superciliosus) all qualify for inclusion in Appendix II. “An Appendix II listing for silky shark and thresher sharks species will ensure that international trade is supplied by sustainably managed and accurately recorded fisheries that are not detrimental to the status of the wild populations they exploit,” Mohamed said.
Obviously, the stakes are high for the future of thresher sharks during the upcoming conference in South Africa. It is absolutely essential for the Philippine delegation to vote “yes” for the inclusion of the aforementioned species of thresher sharks.
All readers of The Filipino Scribe are all encouraged to sign this petition in Change.org to push the country’s representatives to not only vote “yes” but to also play a more proactive role before and during the deliberations to make sure that thresher sharks have all the legal protected they can get to ensure their conservation for the welfare of future generations. ONCE MORE, SIGN THE PETITION HERE.