Animals

Shark Sanctuaries Now Cover 6 Million Square Miles

We take a closer look at the 14 spots around the globe that protect a wide range of species.

The small island nation of Palau established the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009 to help protect the many sharks in its surrounding waters. Sharks of Palau include grey reef sharks, leopard sharks and whitetip reef sharks.

The Maldives established its shark sanctuary in 2010. Hammerhead, tiger and oceanic whitetip sharks are the region's most common sharks. Photo: Hammerhead shark. Credit: Barry Peters, Wikimedia Commons

A new shark sanctuary at the Cayman Islands was just announced earlier this month. "Any legislation that regulates shark fishing to a manageable and sustainable level is positive for sharks," Luke Warwick, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' global shark conservation campaign, told Discovery News. Photo: Grand Cayman from the air. Credit: Salvatore Freni, Jr.

Tiny yet mighty Sint Maarten Shark Sanctuary, established just this year, has laws preventing fishing of sharks, such as grey reef sharks. Photo: Grey reef shark. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Established last year, the shark sanctuary at the Federated States of Micronesia represents a growing movement in the Pacific to prevent extinction of sharks and to save these threatened species.

While the Marshall Islands no longer have the world's largest shark sanctuary (that title goes to French Polynesia), the sanctuary is still among the planet's largest. Enforcing laws within this and other sanctuaries has proven to be challenging, however. In recent months, poaching of several sharks occurred here, right in the area that is supposed to be protected.

Ecotourism has benefitted New Caledonia, whose shark sanctuary was established in 2013. The Pacific waters of this French overseas territory are about the same size as South Africa and include silvertip reef sharks, tiger sharks, grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and other species. Photo: Silvertip reef shark. Credit: Albert Kok, Wikimedia Commons

Established in 2012, the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary is equal in size to Mexico. More than 20 shark species, including blacktip reef sharks, are now protected against poaching. Photo: Blacktip reef shark. Credit: Luc Viatour, Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most popular vacation spots on Earth, such as French Polynesia, now have shark sanctuaries. Tom Letessier, of the Zoological Society of London, helps to monitor several shark sanctuaries as well as other protected marine areas. He told Discovery News that "there are numerous challenges in enforcing sanctuaries," but that "new technologies may provide economical solutions to these problems." Remote surveillance, for example, could be utilized more, to both identify and deter poachers. Photo: Maupiti Island's Tereia Beach, French Polynesia. Credit: SF Brit, Flickr

The world's largest fish, the whale shark, is now protected in waters off of Honduras. The area is also home to hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, nurse sharks, tiger sharks and large six-gill sharks, along with many other species.

According to SportDiver, the top five sharks in The Bahamas are lemon sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, tiger sharks, great hammerheads and Caribbean reef sharks. Photo: Lemon shark. Credit: Albert Kok, Wikimedia Commons

In contrast with their massive size, whale sharks are relatively gentle. Divers often encounter them at Bonaire, an island municipality of the Netherlands off Venezuela's coast in the southern Caribbean. Bonaire's shark sanctuary was established in 2015.

Established in 2014, the British Virgin Islands Shark Sanctuary is home to nurse, blacktip, hammerhead and leopard sharks, among others. Photo: Leopard shark. Credit: Matthew Field, Wikimedia Commons

The Saba Shark Sanctuary, established in 2015, brings the total number of shark sanctuaries across the globe to 14, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has played a major role in creating such protected areas. The world's shark sanctuaries cover 6 million square miles, which is an area bigger than Canada. Photo: Oceanic whitetip shark. Credit: Thomas Ehrensperger, Wikimedia Commons