Saturday, May 24, 2014

Win, celebrate, and move on to the next battle

The British Virgin Islands declared a shark sanctuary on Thursday, becoming the tenth place in the world to fully protect sharks. There are now 12.7 million square kilometers of ocean set aside as protected shark habitat, an area about the size of Mexico and the United States combined.

I was flying home from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands as the announcement was being made in Brussels, Belgium. I didn't share in any of the champagne (assuming there was any), but I did return my tray and seat to the upright position.

The Associated Press picked up the story and quoted me. I said the Caribbean territory is "showing that small islands can have a big impact on global biodiversity." The story was picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and about 400 other media outlets.

I've been trying to use my own Twitter rather than Shark Defenders lately, so I tweeted this:

The other guy who was quoted in the story, you know, that billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, had a much more popular tweet:

In the next couple of months I'll travel to the British Virgin Islands to talk to the government about how my employer can be involved in implementation. We'll probably also see how we can brand the islands as a shark destination, similar to what Palau and Fiji have done so well. Maybe I'll even get to meet Sir Richard again. I wonder if he remembers not meeting me at the Obama Inauguration in 2009?

In the meantime, there are one hundred other fires raging around the world. For about a year the Obama Administration and NOAA have been attempting to overturn state and territory laws that limit shark fishing beyond requiring that sharks are brought to shore with their fins naturally attached (Is it treason to criticize your president in a foreign newspaper?). This has not been much of an issue in the mainland because the seven laws from California to New York exempt some level of fishing for sharks. The laws in the Pacific, however, ban shark fishing period. The federal government claims that these laws interfere with federal fisheries. I'd argue that they compliment the federal law, since the intent of Congress was to protect sharks, not kill every fish in the ocean.

In April I went to Guam to help citizens there stand up for their local laws. Now I'm helping my fellow Americans in Hawaii. The legal arguments on this issue could go either way and will likely ultimately be handled by the courts. In the meantime the decision is a political one, so thousands of my fellow Pacific Islanders are hoping that the Hawaiian president will make the right one.

The Hawaii petition has really taken off. We got it up late on Friday, and with the long weekend looming decided not to blast out any activist emails. Social media didn't care about our intentions, as thanks to Facebook the petition has more than 2,000 signatures after less than 24 hours. If you'd like to send a message to President Obama to protect sharks, I encourage you to sign the petition as well.

And with that, the race is on to create the next shark sanctuary. Will it be the Federated States of Micronesia or Kiribati? Or will it be somewhere in the Caribbean?

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