Sharks and global warming have something in common. Despite the fact that there’s overwhelming evidence that shark populations are dwindling and humans have a hand in the planet heating up way faster than average, there are still a lot of people crying foul. Sharks, though, are a more visceral threat–being torn limb from limb by a dead-eyed, toothy monster is a little easier to imagine than the long term effects of a rapidly changing climate. But an island nation called Kiribati in the Pacific is establishing a massive shark sanctuary, because they looked at the numbers and realized that yes, something needs to be done. They’ve also looked that the numbers for sea level rise realized that they’re pretty much screwed in the next century or so.
According to a study National Geographic did back in 2013, between fishing and culling and accidental-catches, humans kill somewhere around 100 million sharks every year. So you know that guy who’s read a few more stories than usual this year about shark attacks and has decided that means shark populations are on the rise? Well, scientists from all over the world say he’s wrong. And you know that guy that doesn’t understand why anyone has a problem with killing sharks because they have big teeth and sometimes bite people? Well, that guy’s just an idiot.
Kiribati’s Vice President, Kourabi Nenem, announced the sanctuary’s launch on Friday, and they’re not messing around. The area that’s now protected from commercial shark fishing is roughly the size of India, or about one million square miles.
Kiribati lies about 1200 miles north of Hawaii, and is made up of over 30 atolls and reef islands. Although the actual land area is just over 300 square miles, it’s spread across over a million square miles. Shark fishing has long been a part of life there, but despite that–or perhaps because of it–resident elders and community groups pushed for the sanctuary. “They came to realize the shark sanctuary was important to protecting our culture,” said Ben Namakin, one of the first people to start calling for the sanctuary.