As long living animals with a low reproductive rate, sharks grow slowly, reaching the sexual maturity after around 10-12 years (varying depending upon the species) and usually giving birth to few young. These features make them extremely vulnerable to overexploitation, since populations are unable to recover at speed.
As top predators, sharks act as key elements in maintaining the balance of their ecosystem. Any modification in their presence and abundance reflects on the entire ecosystem. For example, the species whose numbers sharks used to police, such as ray and skates, are now exploding in population. They in turn are wiping out scallops and other shellfish, and water quality is suffering as a result. Reefs too are under assault, as parrot fish, which are key to controlling algae growth on reefs, are being exterminated by the fish whose numbers are no longer being regulated by sharks. This cascade effect can lead to unpredictable results.
As fascinating creatures, they play a major role in the Egyptian diving and ecotourism business. Sites such as the Brother Islands, Daedalus Reef, Elphinstone and Abili Ali are well known among the diving community for the presence of oceanic white tip, silky, hammerhead and other beautiful pelagic shark species. It has been estimated that the tourism industry has an annual income of EGP 1,250,000 from a single shark at Brothers Islands.
Looking at these considerations, the many catastrophic side effects of the depleation of the shark population is easy to guess. Nowadays, main threats are identified in fishing and finning; activities that provide income by satisfying the commercial demand of shark meat and fins, as well as hides, liver oil and teeth.
HEPCA, together with the National Parks of the Red Sea and with extensive support from the Red Sea Governor, achieved a milestone result in 2006 when the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries issued a national decree banning shark fishing and serving shark meat in restaurants. A comprehensive campaign led to securing this decree, which ensured Egypt’s compliance to international agreements such as the Convention on International Trading of Endangered Species (CITES).
HEPCA and Shark Project
As a result of this campaign, the Shark Project, one of the most reputable shark and environmental protection schemes in the world, named The Arab Republic of Egypt as the Shark Guardian of the Year 2006. Since then, a fruitful collaboration has commenced to promote awareness and lobby locally and internationally for shark conservation measures. The combined effort to realise and place a Shark Monument in Gota Abu Ramada, close to Giftun Island, marked the commitment of Egypt towards shark conservation and acts as a sound declaration of intent. HEPCA is thankful to Aqualung, Citizen, Lufhansa, Mares, Scubapro, Seemann, Sea&Sea, SSI for the support. A ceremony was held on October 19th 2007 and attended by esteemed scientists, environmentalists, global media representatives and activists.
HEPCA adheres to STOP FINNING and STOP SALES campaigns led by Shark Project, contributing in communicating and enforcing protection in a country where despite the national decree, illegal shark fisheries are still present and shark meat can be unexpectedly found even in important hypermarkets. The goal of our campaigns is to encourage the community to come together to put pressure on those who fish, trade and sell sharks in order to protect our health, environment and prosperity.
No matter the prestige or the dimension of the adversary, we have the power to make things change. Indeed, following a report from Cairo on shark meat sales in a Carrefour store, a petition and a strong public campaign conducted by HEPCA in March 2010 (“Stop Shark Sales”) led to Carrefour Egypt issuing a statement to confirm that they would stop selling shark in their stores.