2011 was a banner year for shark conservation.
In just 12 months, leaders from various nations banded together to make protection of these essential creatures a priority. Commercial fishing of these animals is now prohibited in more than 4.7 million square kilometers of ocean (1.8 million square miles) that have been declared shark sanctuaries, an area more than two times the size of Greenland. States around the world—from California in the United States to the remote Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific—have enacted trade bans on sharks and shark products.
Click on the images below to learn more about the world’s achievements in shark conservation.
President Obama signs the U.S. Shark Conservation Act into law. It closes loopholes in the previous law and positions the United States as a voice for international shark conservation.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands bans the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins. The law also forbids the landing of sharks at all ports within the archipelago. Coupled with the U.S. Shark Conservation Act, this means that there is a ban on the retention of all sharks caught in the waters of this U.S. territory.
Guam bans the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins. Working in concert with the U.S. Shark Conservation Act, this law bans the retention of all sharks caught in Guam’s waters.
The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures issues a resolution stressing the need for additional action to protect sharks. Shortly thereafter, leaders at the Micronesian Chiefs Executive Summit begin the process of creating a regional sanctuary where shark fishing would be prohibited.
Honduran President Lobo Sosa establishes a shark sanctuary in the country’s waters. This area, approximately the size of the United Kingdom, is now off limits to all shark fishing.
The Bahamas prohibits all commercial shark fishing in the country’s waters. Shark-related tourism has contributed more than $800 million to the Bahamian economy over the past 20 years, and this decision reinforces research that sharks are more valuable alive than dead.
Members of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission agree to protect oceanic white tip sharks in the eastern Pacific. Once widespread and abundant, this species has suffered dramatic declines, partially due to the tuna fisheries that operate in the shark's habitat.
Chile bans shark finning and requires all vessels catching sharks to land them with their fins attached.
Tokelau, a self-administered territory of New Zealand comprised of three atolls in the South Pacific, declares itself a shark, whale, and turtle sanctuary.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands establishes the world’s largest shark sanctuary, which covers an ocean area about three times the size of France.
The 48-member International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agrees to ban the retention of silky sharks accidentally caught in fishing gear. Between half a million and one and a half million silky sharks are caught annually for their fins.
The UN General Assembly acknowledges the growing movement to establish shark sanctuaries in its 2011 Sustainable Fisheries Resolution. Leaders representing eight countries came together at the United Nations earlier in the year to launch a new shark conservation effort, committing to support the development of sanctuaries that end commercial shark fishing in their national waters.