In recent years, there has been perhaps no better advocate for the Caribbean’s natural environment than one of its most famous residents: Sir Richard Branson.
And while Branson’s biggest advocacy has come in favor of the green energy movement in the Caribbean, the Virgin mogul’s latest push involves another environmental treasure: the Caribbean’s shark population.
Branson’s ocean advocacy was on full display on a recent visit to St Maarten, where it was announced that four new “shark sanctuaries” had been created in the region.
The Cayman Islands and St Maarten announced that their exclusive economic zones had been completely closed to commercial shark fishing, while Curacao and Grenada announced that they would establish legislation this year that will protect sharks in their waters.
“We applaud the steps taken by Caribbean island governments to conserve sharks in their waters,” said Branson, who now resides on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. “To these governments, sharks are worth far more alive than dead. We are delighted and encouraged to see this bold action being taken to protect Caribbean ecosystems and bolster ecotourism industries.”
The symposium followed a meeting Branson co-hosted in Bimini last year, urging regional governments to enact shark sanctuaries, a call quickly met by the Dutch Caribbean islands of Bonaire and Saba, joining existing shark sanctuaries in the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands.
“Establishing sanctuaries to protect all sharks makes clear that these top predators warrant the same status as other vulnerable marine wildlife that help attract ecotourism, such as turtles and whales,” said Luke Warwick, director of Pew’s global shark conservation campaign.
At least 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries, and officials in more and more island nations are acknowledging the high value sharks have not only to the health of the entire ocean but to the tourism economy.
The announcement and Branson’s call came during a three-day shark conservation symposium held at the Sonesta Ocean Point resort in the Maho area of St Maarten.
In recent years, Branson has been among the world’s leading advocates for wider ocean conservation, arguing for conservation as a driver of the tourism economy.
“Sharks are also worth far more alive than dead. For example, new research led by Dr. Edd Brooks at the Cape Eleuthera Institute presented at the symposium shows that sharks generate $113 million annually in direct expenditure and value added through tourism to the economy in the Bahamas,” Branson said this month.