Irishman dedicated to saving shark life in world’s first sanctuary
Opened in 2009 Dermot Keane’s shark sanctuary covers an area roughly the size of France
In 2009 after years of lobbying by Dermot Keane Palau declared the world’s first shark sanctuary banning shark fishing in an area which covers 240,000 square miles of sea in this Pacific nation.
Although the shark is wrongly considered a bloodthirsty and dangerous predator it is one which is on the brink of extinction in many parts of the world. Luckily in the area of Palau the shark has found a champion in Mr Keane.
Although the sanctuary only has one patrol boat it is making a significant dent in the amount of illegal fishing in the area.
Keane decided the sanctuary was necessary in 1995 when he visited the archipelago for the first time and witnessed foreign fishing boats hunting in the waters. The area feeds Asia’s trade for shark fin soup. The hunters go ‘finning’ this means hacking off the dorsal fin of the sharks before throwing them back into the water to die.
Speaking to AFP Keane said “When I first came here, there were 50 or 60 shark boats working the waters…They had shark fins hanging from the rigging.
"Not only was it visually offensive for someone who came here as a tourist to scuba dive, the smell was pretty awful too. The sight of shark fins laid out to dry on the boats was not a positive image for Palau."
According to Pew Environment Group reports up to 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. They can fetch up to $100 per kilogram on the black market.
Keane now helps to run a diving business and moved to Palau in 1997 and began his campaign for a sanctuary. He said that as the top predators the sharks play a vital role in the ecology and the country was determined to protect all 130 species of shark found in their waters.
“We're seeing less and less of the pelagic (deep water) sharks," said Keane. “With their removal an unbalanced food chain results, changing the way the natural environment functions."
In the beginning Keane’s campaign seemed too confrontational and as someone who was essentially working in the tourism industry it seemed the showing the public blood and guts images of the ‘finning’ was too confrontational.
He said “It was very much a blood and guts message of showing people pictures of sharks and fins and trying to explain what was going on…At the same time, through my work, I was trying to promote Palau as a tourist destination and I was concerned I was working against myself.
"So I started looking for a way to save sharks which was positive, and that's how I arrived at the idea." The idea of a shark sanctuary.
However the idea of protecting the predator didn’t catch on immediately. He said “At first, if you were to press the locals about whether they were for or against it [shark finning’], most of them, even though they weren't directly involved in it, would say 'never mind the sharks, they take our fish'."
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