25 September 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by President Johnson Toribiong of Palau

President Johnson Toribiong of Palau announced today the creation of the first national sanctuary for sharks, encompassing the country’s entire exclusive economic zone, an area roughly the size of France.

“The physical well-being and beauty of sharks reflect the health of the oceans,” he declared at a Headquarters press conference as he invited the world to join in protecting a species on the brink of extinction.  He was accompanied by Stuart Beck, Permanent Representative of Palau, who presented photographs of slaughtered sharks taken on an unlicensed Taiwanese fishing vessel illegally “finning” (stripping captured sharks of their fins, which are used in shark fin soup) in Palau’s waters.  The boat had been intercepted by Palau’s single patrol boat and a case was pending in court against its captain and crew.

President Toribiong said the sanctuary would permit sharks, a species that had roamed the oceans since before the time of the dinosaurs, to live and breed unmolested.  That was of particular importance since sharks only bred late in life and produced few offspring, making them unsuited to commercial exploitation.  The loss of sharks to market forces would remove the apex predator from the marine ecosystem.

Also in attendance was Matt Rand, Director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, who said the full consequences of such a loss were not yet well understood, but they would undoubtedly be extremely detrimental.  Up to 38 per cent of shark species were now threatened or near-threatened with extinction, and there was insufficient information to determine the status of another 35 per cent.  More than 100 million sharks were being removed from the world’s oceans annually.

President Toribiong said all marine life was interconnected, and killing one species would create a negative domino effect.  Mr. Rand noted that Palau was a hot spot for marine biodiversity and sharks, and he hoped its actions to prevent the killing of sharks in its territorial waters would inspire other nations to end shark finning globally and implement the United Nations plan of actions on the species.  While there were currently no limits on shark fishing, the Pew Environment Group planned to work with international regional fishery management organizations to set limits on the number of sharks that could be caught on the high seas.  It would also work with coastal nations to establish comprehensive shark conservation measures.

In response to questions about climate change, the President described the devastation caused by rising tides to low-lying areas and islands of Palau, including the flooding of taro fields, which endangered a basic staple of the national diet, as well as homes by sea water.  Mr. Beck said Palau would again call for a moratorium on bottom trawling during the upcoming fisheries negotiations at the United Nations.

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For information media • not an official record