Joint project saves Bali's sharks from poaching

JAKARTA - A joint project conducted by Bali Sharks and Gili Shark Foundation is to save sharks in Bali's seas from rampant poaching.

As an initial trial, last week, Bali Sharks moved four sharks, each with an average length of one meter, from a nursery they set up near Serangan in south Bali to inside a 3,000-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA) off the Gili islands in Lombok.

Bali Sharks is a marine conservation nursery, which saves sharks and puts them in a pontoon in Serangan's water.

Paul Friese, founder of Bali Sharks, said that moving the sharks to Gili was expected to give them a safe home.

Releasing the sharks in the MPA off Gili was considered safer than having them in Bali's waters.

"Bali is not a safe area for the sharks, since many local fishermen catch them and take them to the fish markets, or the fishermen sell the sharks' fins to middlemen, who send them to Hong Kong."

Bali Sharks rescued the sharks by buying them from local fishermen to prevent them being killed for finning. They keep the young sharks until they are about 1.2-meters long, thus, are old enough, smart enough and competent to stay in deeper water.

So far, they had been able to save 57 sharks. Since the nursery was full, they have had to find a safe area to release the sharks. Teaming up with Gili Shark Foundation, they decided to release the sharks in the waters offthe Gili islands.

Gili Shark Foundation monitors the shark population around the waters of the Gili islands to protect and conserve the sharks and their habitat.

Steve Woods, founder of Gili Sharks Foundation, said that the foundation was established to provide a conservation haven for the sharks that had been rescued by Bali Sharks.

"We offered Bali Sharks what help we could, and that was the start of the foundation," he said.

"In Gili, we have very good MPA, with almost 3,000 hectares of no-go area. You can't snorkel, dive, or fish there, purely in order to regenerate the reef and let the marine life get on with it without us interfering. By having an MPA, the sharks will not be 100 per cent safe, but it's a lot safer than Bali."

In the shark sanctuary, the foundation will build a tank to enable tourists to see and feed the juvenile sharks before the sharks are released into the wild.

"What we're trying to do with Bali Sharks is to save any sharks that are caught anywhere else, that are bound to the fish market. We'll release them into the water in an area where they have a good chance of survival."

Shark hunting in Bali's seas has resulted in a depleting population, as suggested by a 2011 survey by Conservation International (CI) Indonesia. There were only three reef sharks found during 350 hours of diving during the survey.

The NGO has suggested the provincial administration implement a regulation to create a shark sanctuary in Bali and outlaw the capture or killing of sharks in the island's waters.

Ketut Sarjana Putra, CI's country executive director, said that there had been evidence of wholesale slaughter of pregnant female thresher sharks in the waters between Padangbai and Nusa Dua.

"The severe depletion of sharks in Bali's waters is an urgent marine conservation management issue due to the important role sharks play in keeping the ocean ecosystems healthy."

"We urge the Bali government to implement legislation to ban shark fishing and to create a shark sanctuary," he said, adding that the inclusion of manta rays in this ban was also strongly recommended, given the high economic value of manta tourism in Nusa Penida.