An enormous sanctuary has been declared for sharks, turtles, manta rays, mobulas and dugongs in Indonesia.
The sanctuary is located around the Raja Ampat islands in eastern Indonesia, part of the so-called Coral Triangle region of Southeast Asia. The sanctuary covers 46,000 square kilometers (17,760 square miles) and it will now be illegal to catch sharks, turtles and manta rays, mobulas and dugongs or fish for the marine aquarium trade. Destructive practices including reef bombing will also be banned. The shark sanctuary is the first of its kind in Indonesia.
It's thought that Raja Ampat has the highest concentration of fish and coral biodiversity anywhere in the world, with around 1400 species of fish but three quarters of the shark species found there are threatened with local extinction.
Sharks, as apex predators, play a vital role in regulating the health of important commercial fish species, population balance, and coral reefs. Despite this importance, up to 73 million sharks are killed annually with some shark populations declining by as much as 90%, mostly for shark fin soup.
The sanctuary's creation has come about largely due to the efforts of local Misool Eco Resort, which is an exclusive dive and conservation centre, along with conservation groups such as WildAid and Shark Savers. It has also been backed by many non-government organisations and tourism companies.
"Sharks are being killed for their fins, mantas are being killed for their gills, and rare reef fish are being caught for aquariums", said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. "It's tragic that so much of Raja Ampat's biological treasure is destined for consumers who are unaware of the impact."
Michael Skoletsky, Executive Director of Shark Savers said:"This new shark sanctuary owes its creation to thousands of ocean advocates who expressed the urgent need to protect sharks, mantas, and other marine life.
"Divers experience the oceans from the inside and are increasingly taking responsibility for ocean and shark conservation. Underwater ecotourism is a vital tool to counter the rampant exploitation of the world's remaining sharks and bio-rich marine ecosystems."
It's hoped that the sanctuary will offer protection for the fish and other marine life found there, while attracting more visitors to the area.