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Shark "Super Highway" is protected by fishermen

This story was identified byPatricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, guest editor of Call to Earth's "Nature's Highways" theme. I did. ..

(CNN)For Caribbean sharks, turtles and rays, the Meso-American Reef, which stretches over 600 miles from Mexico to Honduras, is a busy highway. As the second largest barrier reef in the world, marine life uses it to move north and south, and the rich tapestry of coral, seaweed and mangrove forests provides important food and habitat.

However, like land highways, this sea corridor can be dangerous. Overfishing, commercial development, and illegal fining endanger species such as whale sharks, reef sharks, and manta. These creatures are already vulnerable, with more than one-third ofsharks and rays endangered around the world.

"In most monitored countries, many sharks and shark populations are continually declining," said a non-profit organization focused on shark and ray protection. Rachel Graham, founder of the Mar Alliance, said. Americas. "Our goal is to reverse that decline," she adds.

MarAlliance gathers important knowledge about the population to help protect and drive political action by monitoring threatened marine life in the region. can do. However, NGOs are seeking their help rather than acting against the local fishing community.

"They are people in the sea every day, and they are those who are trying to determine the long-term fate of sharks and fish," Graham says.

Fishers turn into conservation activists

MarAlliance is primarily project-based, hiring up to 60 fishermen across its scope and data. Are collected and trained to tag and release the fish. It not only provides alternative income to the fishing community and reduces reliance on natural resources, but also teaches about the benefits of a healthy marine ecosystem and sustainable fishing methods.

Ivan Torres is one of these fishermen. Before he worked for the Mar Alliance, he says he caught sharks and sold them locally for food, but now he has learned how sharks are important to the health of the entire ecosystem. As top predators, they can actually increase fishermen's daily catches by helping to keep other populations under control and maintaining balance.

"I don't catch sharks anymore ... because I know how important sharks are to the sea," he says.

If this change in attitude continues to spread throughout the fishing community along the Meso-American Reef, Graham has hope for sharks and other species of populations.

"The main threat to sharks is arguably overfishing," she said, and reforming the industry can help the population recover.

In 2020, Belize banned the use of Gilnet, a large net panel known to entangle large marine animals that hang in the water. Graham says the impact of the ban is already significant in areas such as the Lighthouse Reef, an atoll on the mainland.

It was an area suffering from overfishing, and several boats were crossing international waters to utilize its resources. However, between 2019 and 2021, the Mar Alliance recorded a 10-fold increase in shark populations on the atoll. “What we see is nothing but a miracle,” she says.

However, this type of regulation needs to be replicated along the entire Super Highway for long-term impact, and countries need to find a sustainable balance between fishermen and catchers. there is.

Graham hopes to help the Mar Alliance ensure the safe passage of giant fauna along the coral reefs through the provision of educational and economic alternatives to the fishing community.

"We need to find a win-win strategy between the livelihood of the fisherman and the survival of the shark," she says.