Recently a lot of attention has been on shark conservation in the Bahamas with the release of 2 PSAs created by the Bahamas National Trust and Pew Environment Group and a film entitled This is Your Ocean: Sharks set to premier on April 29, 2011 at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The collective focus is on overturning people’s perception of sharks, stressing the importance of protecting the remaining populations, and what will happen if they are not protected. The film, directed by George Schellenger and narrated by Dr. Sylvia Earle, features artists Guy Harvey and Wyland as well as shark expert and dive operator Jim Abernethy. These staunch ocean conservationists dive with sharks in the Bahamas, one of the best places in the world to swim with these top predators, and show how valuable they are to the ecosystem and the economy.
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One of the reasons shark populations are stable in the Bahamas is because of a ban on long-line fishing established in the 1990′s. This method of fishing often results in destructive by-catch, which is essentially hooking species not targeted by the fishermen. However, with commercial shark fishing still legal and the increasing demand for shark fin soup in Asian countries, there is a call to the Bahamian government to enact legislation that will protect the ‘Shark Diving Capital of the World.’ Tourism is the main draw to the Bahamas and a significant portion is focused on diving with sharks. The Bahamas Dive Association estimates that shark diving related tourism brought 800 million dollars into the economy over the last 20 years and they have valued a live Caribbean reef shark at approximately $250,000 in revenue over the course of its life as opposed to a one-time value of $50-$60 caught and sold. The Bahamas represent a unique opportunity to establish a protected area for sharks, as it could be the first sanctuary in the Atlantic Ocean, and it is clear that leading advocates are pushing to make this happen. It will be interesting to follow.