Caribbean shark coalition launch promotes training, impact, collaboration around shark protections in greater Caribbean region

Our world’s oceans are perhaps the most crucial component to life’s survival on Earth. Aside from serving as the primary medium of transportation for international trade, our planet’s oceans also play a vital role in providing means of food, medicine, climate control, and breathable air to everyone in our world, whether directly or indirectly.

These reasons and others are what make global efforts to protect and preserve marine ecosystems, and the life they contain, such an important factor in the fight against oceanic destruction through manufactured environmental catastrophes like overfishing, mining, and human-led climate change.

One such effort is the “30 x 30” initiative: a global “call to action to safeguard at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.” While efforts to conserve roughly one-third of Earth’s oceans could initially seem daunting to many, one independent research study from last year outlines how this goal can be achieved solely by protecting the abundant biodiversity found within the Caribbean region of the Atlantic Ocean.

A Coalition To Conserve The Caribbean

On May 20th, 2021, The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and Beneath the Waves (BTW) launched a collaboration in the form of the Caribbean Shark Coalition (CSC), an innovative new platform that brings together researchers, key stakeholders, governments, and funding vehicles in an effort to better collaborate and scale the impacts of social policy and marine sciences within the entire Greater Caribbean region.

“This is a historic moment for marine conservation efforts in the Caribbean,” said Tadzio Bervoets, one of CSC’s founding members and Director of the DCNA in a press release last month. “We have been calling for transboundary marine protections in these waters, as we know that these apex predators are connecting ecosystems, reefs, fisheries, and nutrients across Exclusive Economic Zones. The CSC will help us to find and address critical knowledge gaps around sharks and rays in the region and support collaborative research projects.”

CSC represents more than 45 new members from non-government organizations (NGOs), governments, and businesses from nearly 30 countries, which have formally joined the CSC to build capacity around research, policy, and education efforts for threatened oceanic species in the Caribbean region.

“The Caribbean is one of the most biodiverse and abundant regions of the Atlantic Ocean,” says Jamie Fitzgerald, BTW’s Managing Director. “Historically, there has been very little attention or emphasis placed on shark conservation in the Greater Caribbean region, despite high biodiversity. Some studies have even suggested sharks are rare or functionally extinct on most reefs in the Caribbean.”

According to Fitzgerald, this historical lack of attention on shark conservation in the Caribbean grants a present opportunity.

“We believe that an increased political will for establishing big marine-protected areas (MPAs) would be well-suited to the Greater Caribbean,” Fitzgerald continues, “however, until now there has been a poor understanding of what is happening regionally for shark and ray conservation. The CSC seeks to change that narrative.”

An Ocean of Potential Possibilities

The predominant reason for CSC’s focus on shark and ray species in the Caribbean region is due to these animals’ migratory nature. As large, transboundary species, sharks and rays have an innate, unique ability to connect marine ecosystems, traveling from areas of shallow reefs and mangroves along coastlines to deep-sea and pelagic environments throughout their seasonal migrations.

“Through shark and ray research, we ultimately seek to promote the creation of larger MPAs in the region,” Fitzgerald adds. “MPAs are not only vital to the survival of damaged marine ecosystems, but also serve as incredible tools for conservation. They provide long-term protection and studies for species and habitats. The upkeep, maintenance, monitoring and research in MPAs also requires job creation locally, and it is well-known that MPAs can act as an economic stimulant by boosting ecotourism.

Along with ecotourism and other economic stimulants that the creation of MPAs can bring to the Greater Caribbean region, Fitzgerald and her colleagues at the DNCA, CSC, and other partner organizations believe that media, press, and storytelling are incredible tools for disseminating scientific findings and research and for engaging with oceanic communities and ecosystems at all levels, from hyper-local to global.

“We are ocean optimists,” Fitzgerald says, “and while it's easy to be disparaged or feel hopeless in the face of so many global issues - plastic pollution, climate change, overfishing, a global pandemic - it's important to remember that as our world becomes smaller, there are also more opportunities to work together, to innovate, than ever before.”

Indeed, conserving Earth’s oceans and marine life would not be possible without working together to find those innovative solutions that Fitzgerald mentions. Luckily, in our ever-connected and ever-evolving world, she is firm in her belief that this means anything - even protecting 30% of our planet’s oceans - is possible.

CSC was founded in 2020 in response to international calls for enhanced, collaborative conservation efforts for sharks and rays in the Greater Caribbean region. CSC members represent a collection of experts working together to represent the interests and goals of members and sharks and ray species of the Caribbean at the UN (UNEP-CEP and the Regional Activity Center for the SPAW Protocols of the Cartagena Convention), IUCN-Caribbean, CITES, CMS, CBD, and other international gatherings. For information visit www.caribbeansharks.co

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