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World's first shark sanctuary set to open in Palau

The tiny Pacific nation is fighting to protect more than 130 species fighting extinction in the Pacific Ocean.

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Palau is one of the world's smallest countries, with some 20,000 people scattered over 190-square mile archipelago of lush tropical landscapes in the Western Pacific.

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Its shark sanctuary will shelter more than 135 Western Pacific species of sharks and rays considered endangered or vulnerable, or for which there is not enough data to determine how the species is faring.

"Palau has basically raised the bar for the rest of the world for shark conservation," says Matt Rand, director for global shark conservation for Washington-based Pew Environment Group, an advocacy organization.

Elsewhere, Europe is trying to crack down on shark fishing in its waters.

In February, the European Commission proposed its first-ever shark conservation rules for European waters. EU countries account for a third of shark meat exports globally, and shark steaks are increasingly served in restaurants, replacing pricier swordfish steaks, and shark products are also finding their way into lotions and leather sports shoes.

Toribiong said he also will call for a global moratorium on "shark finning" — the practice of hacking off shark fins and throwing the body back into the sea — and an end to unregulated and destructive bottom trawling on the high seas.

Palau is among 20 seafaring nations that already have voluntary agreed to end bottom trawling, which involves fishing boats that drag giant nets along the sea floor.

Enormously effective at catching fish, the nets from bottom trawling also wipe out almost everything in their path, smash coral and stir clouds of sediment that smother sea life, marine experts say.

The UN has called bottom trawling a danger to unique and unexplored ecological systems and said slightly more than half the underwater mountain and coral ecosystems in the world can be found beyond the protection of national boundaries.

Editor’s note: If you'd like to read more about the environmental issues sharks are facing, check out this recent Monitor article about shark-fishing contests.

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