The island nation of Kiribati has established a large shark sanctuary that will help ensure the creatures are protected across much of the central Pacific. Vice President Kourabi Nenem said at the sanctuary's launch on Friday that the nation was committed to protecting sharks from exploitation and overfishing, the AP reports. Kiribati has banned commercial shark fishing in the sanctuary, which is about five times the size of Texas. Palau established the first shark sanctuary in the region in 2009, and has been followed by the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, and other nations. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that 100 million sharks are killed each year by commercial fisheries.
Pew says sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they're slow to mature and reproduce. Ben Namakin, who was born in Kiribati and has pushed for the sanctuary, says he first began to consult elders and community groups with the idea about four years ago. He said some people were resistant at first because Kiribati had a tradition of catching and eating sharks. But he said the elders didn't like the way commercial operators were fishing for the creatures and understood their plight more when told of their unusual biology. "They came to realize the shark sanctuary was important to protecting our culture," Namakin says. (This shark may be the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet.)