Nature Foundation Shark Research Project Tags Various Species With Assistance of Local Fishermen

Important Information Being Gathered on Lifecycle of Sharks in St. Maarten Waters
Locally mandated fishermen are continuing to assist the St. Maarten Nature Foundation with the tagging and releasing of in particular juvenile sharks species in Territorial Waters as part of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation Shark Research Program. Over the past weeks several species, including juvenile black-tip reef and Caribbean Reef Sharks have been tagged as part of a larger project where research is done on the protected shark and ray population on the island. The Caribbean Reef shark and the Black Tip Reef Shark are listed as threatened and near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Tags are being placed in the animals which will provide information on the length, species, sex and habitat of the animal. Earlier tagging expeditions have also tagged a relatively rare species for St. Maarten the Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae).

The Nature Foundation has been conducting a Shark Research Project including a study that established that a single live shark is worth up to USD $884,000 to the economy of the island, as is opposed to just a few dollars dead. The majority of divers who come to the island pay top dollar to see sharks in their Natural Environment. These divers also rent cars, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and drink in bars. Taking all of that into account and based on research conducted by the Nature Foundation a single live shark contributes $884,000 to the economy of St. Maarten annually. Sharks are an apex predator and are essential to the health of local coral reefs and if we do not have sharks we will lose our coral reef ecosystem. Sharks keep the reefs clean of unhealthy fish which in turn keeps the ecosystem in balance. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s manmade carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.

Nearly two years after the historic decision to legally protect sharks and rays in St. Maarten’s territorial waters sharks and rays are now also under international protection, becoming the latest additions to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Foundation has also been mentioned for its work to protect the species on St. Maarten and is now spearheading a project to learn more about shark and ray behavior in the marine park and near coastal waters. The Foundation is also the Scientific Authority on CITES for St. Maarten.

It is also a large step in this project to have local fisherman assisting the Nature Foundation in tagging and releasing sharks and providing essential information which will go towards the further protection of the species. The Nature Foundation and Dive Operators have also been introducing the invasive Lionfish to sharks in the hope that the animals will control the poisonous fish. The reputation of sharks as blood thirsty creatures is largely exaggerated by sensationalist reports and thousands more people are killed in dog attacks yearly than are bitten by sharks. Countries all over the world have recognized the importance of these animals and here on St. Maarten we will continue to put Shark Conservation as a top priority. The Nature Foundation is particularly grateful for the assistance of fisherman whose local traditional knowledge are essential in protecting the ocean.