Lauli’i shark a good sign for the ocean

The shark that chomped off the end of a Va'a off the coast of Lauli'i two weeks ago is a sign of a healthy ocean and its ecosystem, the Government believes.

Siala Lova and two friends were paddling 10 kilometres from the reef off the coast of Lauli'i when a shark nipped the end of his boat.

The three of them made it to shore safely, despite not taking life jackets.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.) said sharks are a regular presence all over Samoa and are a welcome sight.

"The sighting of sharks is an indicator of healthy reefs, they play a critical role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems," the spokesperson said.

"The loss of sharks in our oceans can lead to unpredictable consequences, including the possible collapse of important fisheries and the loss of corals and other marine habitats which can impact on the livelihoods of our people."

The spokesperson believes the type of shark is most likely a tiger shark or bull shark, "as these are some of the aggressive sharks found further offshore." 

But the fact that the paddlers went out without life-jackets worries Ulugia Jay Ah-Fook Schuster, paddling coach and club organiser.

“Regardless of how experienced you can never be too safe especially when it comes to the ocean,” he said, adding that paddlers should go out with a life jacket, phone and at least one other person.

“The boats are designed to float if something happens… This [is] probably why they neglected to take their jackets.”

The men also went 10 kilometres from the reef for their trip, or, as Mr. Lova put it: “where the big guys are.”

Ulugia said experienced paddlers will often travel at least five kilometres from the reef, depending on the conditions for training or a day out. But ideally, he hopes paddlers would start telling their club their plans before they paddle.

“It should be a good practice to let your club know which direction you are going, how long and how far.”

The most common sharks in Samoa are reef sharks, blacktips, whitetips and grey reef sharks. 

"M.N.R.E carried out a shark survey in 2017 and we only observed the reef sharks, we did not encounter other species such as hammerheads, tigers and bull sharks," the spokesperson said.

Coastal sharks need healthy reefs, and any degradation will drive them away. But video footage taken during the survey should abundant sharks and healthy reefs, recovering from severe damage from tsunamis.

In 2018, the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, declared Samoa’s oceans a shark sanctuary, banning commercial fishing, sale and trade of all sharks.

Samoa was the eighth country to establish a shark sanctuary, making the total sanctuary in the Pacific 17 million square kilometres wide.

““We will not sit idly by while the demand for shark products robs us our future generations of these culturally, ecologically and economically valuable species,” Tuilaepa said at the official announcement.

“Let us together continue to safeguard these imperilled species for our future generation.”

Tiger sharks, the species most likely to have bitten the boat is considered near threatened and its global population is decreasing.

More broadly, shark populations are in danger to commercial fishing and habitat degradation. In the Australian state of Queensland alone shark numbers have declined by more than 90 per cent in 50 years, according to research released in 2018.

The first sanctuary was established by Palau in 2009, and covers 600,000 square kilometres of ocean. The Maldives and Tokelau followed in 2011 and have since been joined by Guam, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.

Outside the Pacific, Honduras has a shark fishing ban, and the United States bans shark finning on U.S flagged vessels.

South Africa declared great white sharks a legally protected species in 1991, and the European Union established shark conservation rules for European waters but has not implemented a ban.

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