Save our Sharks
The St. Maarten Nature Foundation works on shark conservation through the Save Our Sharks project from the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, the project aims to create safe havens for sharks in Dutch Caribbean waters. The Foundation focuses on the protection of the St. Maarten shark populations by performing scientific research, communicating with politicians and fishermen and educating the public about sharks. The Save Our Sharks project is financed by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.
Worldwide sharks are the most misunderstood species on the planet as they are repeatedly displayed as villains and being dangerous; however they are actually the victims of humans poaching, finning, overfishing and coastal development activities. Humans kill about 100 million sharks every year, if we continue many shark species will go extinct. Oceans without sharks will have unpredictable and presumably negative impacts for marine life, fisheries and islands, as we depend on our oceans. It is our responsibility to act upon this problem.
The Nature Foundation conducts scientific research in the waters of St. Maarten to provide insight into behavior, growth and movement patterns of several shark species. Little is known about the current state of shark populations, even less is known about which areas they use as nursery and feeding grounds. This kind of information is essential if we are going to ensure the long-term protection of sharks and rays in our waters.
During a scientific research workup, sharks are caught, tagged, measured and safely released back in the water. The Foundation uses different kind of tags to track sharks:
For highly migratory species, such as tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), satellite tags are used to discover their migration patterns in the wider Caribbean and beyond. These tags transmit to satellites and can determine the shark movements with pin point accuracy when breaking the surface.
Acoustic transmitters and receivers are used to research local movement patterns for Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii), nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and juvenile tiger sharks. An acoustic transmitter sends out unique signals which are detected in a range of 500m by an underwater acoustic receiver.
All sharks receive a PIT tag, Passive Integrated Transponder, which acts essentially as a lifetime barcode, allowing scientists to receive information by recapture. Veterinarians also use this type of tag to ‘microchip’ pets, like cats and dogs.
St. Maarten Shark Sanctuary
During the Shark Conservation Symposium on the 15th of June 2016, the St. Maarten Government announced a shark sanctuary in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). This means that sharks are now long-term protected on St. Maarten, which is a great step forward in shark and nature conservation and eco-tourism.
The Nature Foundation monitors sightings of shark and ray species on St. Maarten’s dive sites, providing insight into species presence, abundance and seasonal patterns.
Tourists come to St. Maarten for our healthy reefs and our sharks and this generates income for everybody living on this island. Therefore a shark is far more worth alive ($250,000) than dead ($50) over its life time. When seeing a shark you shouldn’t be afraid, sharks are in no way dangerous for humans. It is a wonderful experience and completely safe to dive, snorkel and swim with sharks.
It is very likely to see sharks when scuba diving on St. Maarten, most of the shark species are sighted in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. You will mainly see Caribbean Reef Sharks and Nurse Sharks, and occasionally Hammerhead sharks are sighted.
Awareness and Education
A very relevant part of the Save our Sharks project is education, communication and awareness, to show the importance of sharks for our reefs, island and tourism. Through shark related activities, events, school visits and outreach the Foundation stresses out the importance of sharks for our island life and creates awareness about their rapid decline.
The local community often thinks that sharks do eat people. This is a misunderstanding, we are not on the menu for sharks, sharks do not eat people. Occasionally shark bites do happen, on average five people per year die of an injury caused by a shark bite, it is more likely that you get killed by a coconut falling on your head than by a shark.
Shark week is an event organized in June to educate the local community, students and tourists about sharks. During Shark week several activities are organized for kids and adults to learn about sharks and show their beauty. The Nature Foundation also visits primary and secondary schools, to educate students about numerous shark species, the importance of sharks for our reefs and tourism, depletion of sharks and why they need our help.
Around the globe numerous shark related products are sold, such as shark fin soup, shark steaks, shark oil and shark cartilage, these products contribute greatly to the slaughter and finning of sharks. The Nature Foundation tries to prevent the sale of shark products in St Maarten, selling these products are pushing sharks to the brink of extinction.
There is also no accepted scientific evidence showing any positive health benefits of shark fin soup or shark products. The promotion of these products is a marketing strategy; in fact studies show that shark has among the highest levels of the toxic methyl-mercury and other dangerous toxins and can cause serious negative health effects. Therefore, the Nature Foundation advices not to consume or purchase any shark related product.