The Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary
In September, 2015, Dutch State Secretary of Economic Affairs, Mrs. Sharon Dijksma, opened the “Yarari” marine mammal and shark sanctuary creating the eleventh shark sanctuary in the world. The name of the sanctuary, Yarari, is a Taíno Indian word, meaning “a fine place.”
The populations of sharks worldwide are in sharp decline and therefore need extra protection against illegal fishing and bycatch in regulated fisheries. On Bonaire, the local nature conservation and fisheries organizations will be involved in the protection.
When there are more sharks, there are – contrary to what one might expect – also more fish. Fish stock research by IMARES has shown that a decrease in the number of sharks, as top predators, leads to a disturbed natural balance in the sea. This can affect the overall fish population, and good fish stocks are important for fishermen on the islands that depend on fishing. Tourism also benefits from coral reefs with sharks.
The Yarari Sanctuary, which encompasses all the waters around Bonaire (as well its sister island, Saba), including the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ, will not only protect sharks, but will also provide a haven—a fine place— for marine mammals, the whales and dolphins so many visitors wish to encounter. Many species of whales and dolphins are known to inhabit the waters around these islands, including orcas, humpback whales and sperm whales, more than twenty different species. The Sanctuary is intended to focus upon research of the various marine mammal populations to learn more about their lives and the threats they may be under, so we will learn how best to protect them. Like sharks, marine mammals are important for tourism.
The Yarari Sanctuary will form part of a network of marine mammal sanctuaries in the region, including the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the northern USA, an important summering ground for humpback whales, the French Caribbean “Agoa” Sanctuary and the Dominican Republic Marine Mammal Sanctuary, which includes the Silver Banks.