In January, dozens of baby scalloped hammerhead sharks washed ashore on Nukulau Island in the Rewa River Delta. CORAL was called to Nukulau along with a Fiji Times reporter and several researchers to investigate.
Recalls CORAL’s Fiji Field Manager Molly Powers-Tora, “We exhumed the two-day-old bodies of twenty-seven sharks. Seven had closed umbilical scars—implying that they'd been born for at least a few weeks—and all of them had deep gill wounds.”
The Fijian Department of Fisheries concluded that the cause of death was entanglement.
According to Molly, the Department of Fisheries had reported some very destructive fishing practices going on in Rewa, with 3-kilometer-long nets being set overnight. “The gill wounds were likely caused by predatory fish or crabs after they were discarded,” says Molly.
This event is especially troubling because hammerheads are endangered, says Rick MacPherson, CORAL’s Director of Conservation Programs. “This species is slow to mature, produces few offspring, and is already threatened from unregulated and rampant overfishing for the shark fin trade. The death of these hammerheads points to the urgent need for Fiji to do everything it can to ensure that strong protections for sharks are in place.”
CORAL’s work in Fiji aims to prevent future tragedies such as this one. “We are currently supporting Fiji’s government in the development of a National Plan of Action to conserve and manage its shark species,” says Molly. “This might include seasonal closures or a no-take protected area in the Rewa River Delta, which is an established nursery for bull and hammerhead shark pups. We’re also hopeful that the scalloped hammerhead will get international protection at the upcoming Conference on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Bangkok this March.”
Photos by CORAL staff