Nature Foundation reminder – Sharks are protected on Sint Maarten

Philipsburg – The Nature Foundation would like to extend their deepest condolences to the friends and family members of the woman who died on Orient Bay beach. It is very saddened to hear about this accident and that the cause of her death is due to a shark. “Human fatalities due to shark bites are very rare and none were recorded before this accident on St. Maarten. No one will know the reason why this shark biting occurred causing the young woman to loose her life, however we do want to stress that sharks are not killing machines. Rare accidents like this one can happen, however most sharks are harmless and an important contributor to the health of our marine ecosystem” stated the Nature Foundation.

The Nature Foundation would like to remind the public that sharks are a protected species in Sint Maarten waters and cannot be hunted, caught or killed. “We have heard rumors of fishermen going out to hunt our local sharks due to this accident, however our local sharks, such as reef sharks and nurse sharks are not to be blamed for this accident. Besides, sharks and rays are a protected species when in Dutch waters and catching, landing and killing will be prosecuted according to our legislation” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern Manager of the Nature Foundation.

According to the French authorities the cause of the accident is suspected to be a large tiger shark, especially large tiger sharks are migratory species travelling great distances in a single day. “It is extremely likely that this shark already disappeared into the deep ocean, besides sharks are not known to re-bite when mistakenly have bitten a human, humans are not food they consume”. The Nature foundation thinks a swimming ban is not deemed necessary and will only create additional fear among the population, of course those individuals who decide not to swim are being respected.

Sharks are still wild animals and top predators, they survive due to their predatory skills, therefore accidents like this may occasionally happen. “However, bites are often mistaken identities by the shark, the shark is confused, or curious as splashing water can make them to investigate the situation. There is no evidence that sharks are hunting humans or in any case eating them, although we are a very easy meal for them to catch. You would be surprised how often people are in the water with sharks, but they just ignored the humans. It is actually surprising how few shark accidents happen considering how many people worldwide enter their habitat every day, the ocean itself takes much more lives due to for example drowning (and that stopped no one from swimming in our waters). But this is not a reason to not mourn the loss of this young woman’s life, as we are shocked and saddened by this accident” clarified Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.

The Nature Foundation is aware of the occurrence of tiger sharks around St. Maarten and in the Caribbean region, especially juvenile tiger sharks are recorded in our waters and these sharks are researched and tagged by the Foundation. The larger tiger sharks are passing by on their journey through the Caribbean region but spend most of their time offshore in deeper waters, sometimes close to drop offs, for example at the Saba Bank. On that location the Nature Foundation, Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance and Saba Conservation Foundation have tagged and researched large tiger sharks, these larger ones are hardly recorded close to shore. Attached a track is shown of one of the larger tiger sharks (>3m) tagged on the Saba Bank, showing very little interaction with the Caribbean islands, spending most of his time in the deeper open ocean and showing no return to the same location.

The Foundation is not in the support of Shark or Fish feeding in our waters and have always recommended to not feed marine life. There have been some suggestions made by the public that the cause of this incident is linked to shark feeding dives being operated in St. Maarten. Shark feeding is no longer accepted within the Man of War shoal Marine Protected Area since 2014 (Dutch side). In addition, in the past these dives were focused on the local species such as Nurse and Caribbean Reef sharks, which live in our waters. Tiger sharks are migratory species and not seen during scuba dives and neither ever being fed, therefore local feeding is thought to be unlikely to influence such accidents as large tiger sharks do not live here, they only pass by occasionally.   

World-wide in 2019 there were a total of 5 fatalities due to shark bites, none close to this region. “Therefore, we ask everyone to not let themselves be driven by fear as most sharks are still harmless. Sharks are not out there to kill us, otherwise no one would be able to swim in our waters, sharks are key species for the marine ecosystem and their presence is vital” concluded the Nature Foundation.

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