Thousands of sharks massacred in Colombian sanctuary

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Environmental authorities in Colombia have reported the massacre of thousands of sharks within the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary in the Pacific.

Reports estimate as many as 2,000 Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), Galapagos (Carcharhinus galapagensis) and Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) may have been slaughtered for their fins.

The tragedy was uncovered when an international team of divers who were studying sharks in the reserve noticed a large number of fishing boats entering the exclusion zone around the Malpelo rock island after which the reserve is named.

When the team started diving they came across the mutilated, finless bodies littering the ocean floor instead of the expected population of live sharks.

The divers counted 10 trawlers in the area, all flying the Costa Rican flag. The Colombian president's top environmental advisor Sandra Bessudo, a marine biologist who has spent much of her career campaigning for the sanctuary, has been handed video evidence of the crime.

The Malpelo wildlife sanctuary covers over 8,500 sq/km providing vital habitat for threatened marine fauna, and is renowned for its sharks. Large schools of as many as 1,000 Silky sharks and hundreds of Scalloped hammerheads are regularly seen in the area and in 2006 the park was included on Unesco's list of World Heritage Sites due to its international importance.

The Colombian navy maintains a small outpost on the island, and does occasionally patrol its waters, but at the time of the incident no naval vessels were in the area which is a day and a half from the nearest port.

The release of the report has seen the navy send a ship to the area which caught an Ecuadorian trawler with a 300kg of illegally captured fish on board including sharks.

The Costa Rican government has condemned the action of the trawlers involved and has vowed to not only prosecute anyone proved to be responsible but to co-operate with the Colombians to help stop the practice by ships fishing under its flag.

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