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World Changing Ideas

Why A Conservation Group Is Buying Shark Fishing Rights In The Great Barrier Reef

The $100,000 investment makes sure no one will ever catch sharks there again.

Why A Conservation Group Is Buying Shark Fishing Rights In The Great Barrier Reef

[Photo: Flickr user Jim H.]

The WWF, one of the world's largest conservation groups, is getting into the shark fishing business.

But before you get all outraged, know there is a strategy behind buying a $100,000 shark-fishing license for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: They are planning not to use it.

The idea is to make it unavailable to others, protecting not only the sharks, but also any other creatures disturbed when trawling nets are dragged through its seas.

"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," WWF Australia’s conservation director Gilly Llewellyn told ABC News.

Flickr user Mads Bødker

The license includes a 1.2 kilometer net, which will be scrapped. WWF says that the program will save 10,000 sharks per year, based on the its own interpretations of Queensland’s fishing figures.

Or perhaps not. Speaking to Australia’s ABC News, fisherman Mario Fazio called the scheme a "PR stunt." The license that the WWF plans to buy hasn’t been in use since 2004. When asked about this, Llewellyn said "Someone could buy it tomorrow and go fishing with it in a couple of months' time and it could be catching sharks again."

PR stunt or not, overfishing of sharks is a real problem, and not just for the sharks and the other creatures that get caught in the nets. By removing apex predators from the ecosystem, the coral itself is put in danger.

"After bleaching, algae spreads. Researchers found that where sharks were removed by overfishing, smaller predators like snapper became more abundant," said Llewellyn in a WWF press release. "These snapper kill the algae-eating fish and the algae then overwhelms young coral."

To pay for the license, which is one of five "N4" licenses in Queensland, the WWF is trying to raise money. This puts it in the middle of a recent trend, where activist groups use crowdfunding to effect change. Last year, Greenpeace Nordic tried to raise up to 3 billion Euros to buy coal mines and two power plants from Sweden’s Vattenfall company, in order to shut them down. The attempt failed when Greenpeace was barred from the bidding process.

More recently, a group of New Zealanders successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign to buy back a privately owned beach and donate to the surrounding national park. Interestingly, in that case, the New Zealand government put in $254,000 to help reach the $2 million goal.

In the age of online crowdfunding, you don’t need to rely on local donations to get work done, and the bigger audience means that bigger funding goals can be attempted. Perhaps crowdfunding activism could become a thing, allowing individuals to help effect change in a real, measurable way.

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