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The Dominican Republic, Sadly a Country Far From Achieving Shark Conservation

For some time now, widespread indignation has grown due to the excessive reports in Dominican local media and social networks that define shark fishing as a “feat”, demonizing the species as if Hollywood culture had become part of our daily lives.

Sharks have existed in our seas and oceans for over 400 million years, playing a leading role in marine ecology, since they are at the top of the food chain.

In the Dominican Republic the population of sharks and rays used to be large and very diverse in its number of species. Unfortunately, at present, they are no longer easily spotted. In 2013, an attempt to organize a shark fishing tournament in Santo Domingo raised alarms among conservationists in the country. They demanded action by the competent authorities to ensure the protection of these species.

But today, we still have cases where some national media report the news of shark fishing by emphasizing it as a feat by appointing its perpetrators as “heroes”.

Is this an indicator of how far behind Dominican society lags on conservation matters?

In the insular Caribbean region, our country seems to be one of the few that does not implement any conservation or preservation policies for these species.

The existing legal framework in the Dominican Republic is limited to OSP-05-011 rules and the inclusion of species such as Carcharhinus longimanus, white tip; Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna Mokarran); Smooth Hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena); the Sardinero (Lamna nasus) and Manta  Ray (Manta spp) in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), so fisheries and local markets are not properly regulated.

Recently, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, St. Maarten and Grenada announced the creation of marine sanctuaries for the preservation of these species. This is due to the decline in their populations because of humans and the loss and degradation of their habitat.

The demand for shark fins, something we’re also not immune to, has led to the extermination of more than 100 million sharks each year worldwide. It has gotten to the point that many species are in danger of extinction (about 30%). Asia is the largest consumer and it is estimated that each year, Hong Kong alone imports 10 million kilos of shark fins; that’s equivalent to 73 million sharks from more than 80 countries.

Complaints filed through social networks by a citizens group called Eco & ½ ambiente highlight concerns for this problem. New alarms have sounded on the problems of overfishing all species of Elasmobranchii.

Recent cases: shark finning was detected in the Banco de La Plata by boat Don Goyo, tiger shark fishing on Avenida de Las Americas, Spotted Eagle Ray fishing (Aetobatus narinari) in Cayo Levantado and the latest catch in Bavaro, Punta Cana.

The latter have generated great national and international rejection because hotel chain personnel were caught participating in the catches.

While international media underscores citizens that get involved or help a shark or other species on foreign shores to return to their habitat, in the Dominican Republic we are bombarded with photos and home videos of catches that are not for subsistence, but rather killed just to kill.

Among some of the explanations for these acts, Dominicans argued it was for the safety of tourists and staff.

So my question is: do hotel chain have policies so that guests and staff not die in traffic accidents (cars and buses), from sexually transmitted diseases, from alcohol intake, etc.?

All these actions cause more deaths per year than sharks do, so it’s not really for safety.

An opportunity to measure the success of this measure of killing sharks would be to ask foreign guests and staff who were able to witness the event, what if this happened in their country of origin?

The denial of these actions has been swift and more and more Dominicans and foreigners ask for the conservation of species of flora and fauna, echoing these adverse events.

Encouraging the principles of conservation and efficient and responsible use of natural resources makes us a society more prosperous, and all public, private and non-governmental enterprises in the tourism sector and the environment should promote these themselves.

Diving with sharks is not a new or unknown practice to tourist destinations and actions like this are turning away, instead of attracting, tourists. Sustainable tourism is an activity that generates millions of dollars demanded by professional and amateur divers alike in destinations such as Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, Bahamas, Saba, Cuba, and Belize.

This is a call to reflect on how we can emulate the best practices of countries like the Dominican Republic and how to make us more sustainable.