Diver hold the Shark Week sign at The Lost Chambers Aquarium
Diver hold the Shark Week sign at The Lost Chambers Aquarium, Atlantis The Palm on Sunday. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Dubai: The contribution that live sharks make to the ecosystem as a whole is invaluable and far outweighs the satisfaction a select few get from a bowl of soup in restaurants in the Far East, hence the need to protect this species from extinction, conservationists said on Sunday.

As many as 100 million sharks are massacred globally every year for their dorsal fins. Once the fin is sliced off, the poor animal is discarded into the ocean to bleed to death.

Unless countries come together to stem this animal cruelty, sharks will eventually become extinct, conservationists said during the start of Dubai Shark Week 2019 organised by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Atlantis, The Palm, in Dubai. The event coincides with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

“The destination is the Far East, in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other parts of Asia,” Dr Elsayed Ahmad Mohammad, regional director, Mena, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said, adding the need to regulate harvesting of shark fins is critical.

Sharks are apex predators and are on the top of the food chain. Decreasing shark population could throw the ecosystem out of balance. On top of their value in the ecosystem, they also give more value to humans.

“We want people to know the value of sharks. There’s a study about the value of a shark in attracting tourists. The value is more than $100,000 (Dh367,000) a year for ecotourism. This in turn helps the economy,” Dr Mohammad sad.

Another study said shark ecotourism could generate more than $314 million annually worldwide.

Compare this with a delicacy sold in the market for a few hundreds of dollars, with the average of about $450.

Dr Elsayed said another gap in the conservation measures is people who consume the shark fin soup are usually “unaware of the problem of how the fins were harvested in the country of origin”. But a number of non-government organisations area already working in China to educate patrons and reduce the demand for shark fins.

Hiba Al Shehhi, acting director of Biodiversity Department, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCE), strongly emphasised that “no shark fins” are supplied from UAE waters to the Far East.

This is because of the number of legislations and existing National Action Plan to protect the species.

But Al Shehhi said that sharks in the UAE are also in critical number and populations are yet to recover.

“In a study in 2016, the ministry found out that almost 50 per cent of the sharks in the Arabian Gulf is threatened. Twenty-two per cent of them are critically threatened and three per cent are already extinct. When we saw the status of the sharks, we said we have to do something,” Al Shehhi said.

Mike Rutzen, shark behaviourist and conservationist from South Africa and speaker at the conference, said global shark populations are dwindling as well and if nothing is done about it, it may be too late.

“Unfortunately, we are now at a crossroads. The world population of sharks is at a point where if we don’t do anything about it, all of them will go extinct — not just one population of shark — because of poaching and illegal trade,” he said.

Rutzen encouraged UAE residents to know more about his shark conservation through his educational programmes that will be held at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai. From there, residents can use social media to spread the message of the need to protect sharks worldwide.

Al Shehhi also has a suggestion. “Get your kids to love nature, to love sharks and to love these species. Have them change their mindset and their bevahiour and that way you will create a generation that loves nature. And if they love it, they will definitely protect it.