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WWF just paid AU$100,000 to protect the Great Barrier Reef

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF)stepped up their improvisation level to God mode recently. So, if there's rampant fishing corroding a major reef what's the best way to end the systemic massacre of the ecosystem? Raising awareness levels? Wrong. Buy the license at whatever cost so no one else can fish. Unbelievable? That's exactly what WWF did.

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Taking a bite out of shark fishing

WWF has just bought a commercial shark fishing licence on the Great Barrier Reef to ensure no one else destroys the shark community that thrives - or used to at one point - in the region. The AU$100,000 licence gives owners the right to drag a 1.2 km net (included in the purchase of the license) ANYWHERE along the Great Barrier Reef. They can choose to target species other than sharks as well.

The WWF has revealed that the same license was used to target sharks for 10 years until 2004. By the end of it, the license allowed the fishing of about 10,000 sharks each year.

ABC quotes the conservation director Gilly Llewellyn saying that, "We're going to take it out of the water and make sure it doesn't go fishing." She added that, "We have a chance to ... help save some of those sharks. This will also prevent dugongs, turtles and dolphins being killed as by-catch, and help the reef heal after the worst coral bleaching in its history."

A message to the Australian government

This move by WWF assumes significance in the light of some figures released by the Queensland Government - the commercial shark catch on the Great Barrier Reef spiked from 222 tonnes in 2014 to 402 tonnes in 2015. In fact, the federal government has also been considering whether to list certain species of hammerheads under 'threatened.'

Irrespective of additions to the list, the move can send a strong message to authorities. "This is a shot across the bow to the management authorities and to the Australian Government that we believe they should be protected," Llewellyn told ABC.

The government, many conservationists believe definitely needs a "shot across the bow" like this, if recent developments are any indicator. Earlier this year, Michael Slezak reported in The Guardian the duplicity of the Australian government vis-a-vis the issue of coral reef and shark fishing. The Australian government was accused of hypocrisy because they signed a non-binding agreement that aimed to protect endangered sharks. But in shocking contrast, they withdrew recently from another legally binding international accord.

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Basically, in November 2014, the Australian government agreed to grant protection to 31 species of sharks under the UN-administered convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals. Two months later, the Australian government opted out of that agreement because they had "reservations" with respect to five of the species.

The real shocker came after Guardian Australia revealed that the about-turn happened after the government's discussion with recreational fishers instead of scientists.

In a January Guardian article Jessica Harwood, from the Humane Society International, was quoted saying that, "Australia is being hypocritical in pursuing things that make them look good but, where it counts, not saying to recreational fishers or commercial industries, 'Sorry, you can't take these species anymore.'"

A danger to the Great Barrier Reef

There have been repeated indicators of how bad the situation is for coral reefs and the ecosystem within it. An April survey this year raised alarms again when it revealed that 93% of the reef has been affected by coral bleaching.

"We've never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it's like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once," said lead researcher Terry Hughes in an official statement.

The problem Australia faces isn't just of shark fishing in isolation. It's a larger problem of conservation of 2300-odd kms of a living, breathing community that's in danger purely due to unchecked human activity.

Here's hoping one of the few majestic natural structures, supposedly visible even from outer space, stays alive to inspire awe in the coming generations.

First published: 17 July 2016, 8:47 IST