Wednesday, April 01, 2009

New protective laws for the Great White shark

Great white sharks, seagrass in Tomales Bay and other parts of the aquatic environment off Marin's coast will enjoy more protection under new federal rules that took effect this month.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees federal marine sanctuaries, developed the regulatory changes after years of study, planning and public comment.

As part of the changes, great white sharks are now protected from people who want to get a closer look at them. There is now a prohibition against getting closer than 50 meters - or 164 feet - of a white shark within 2 nautical miles of the Farallon Islands. The rule also bans the practice of using decoys or chum to lure sharks.

"We have had cases where people in vessels come charging up to the sharks, scaring them away from food they have just caught," said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. "These activities threaten the health of the species."

Tomales Bay's seagrass, which helps species such as herring, will get special protection. Seven buoys will be placed in the bay to protect eelgrass and other seagrasses so boaters do not drop anchor or moor over the areas, which can damage the grasses or prevent them from getting sun.

The grasses help trap sediment, reduce nutrients and pollutants in the water and improve water quality. Seagrass also provides important habitat for migratory birds, such as shorebirds.

Marin has two parks just a short boat ride away: the Gulf of the Farallones is a 1,255-square-mile area made up of tidal flats, rocky intertidal areas, wetlands, subtidal reefs and coastal beaches. The sanctuary is home to thousands of seals and sea lions, hosts great white sharks and the largest concentration of breeding seabirds in the continental United States.

The Cordell Bank Sanctuary sits beyond the Gulf of the Farallones, 52 miles northwest of Marin's coast, at the edge of the continental shelf. It encompasses 526 square miles. Endangered humpback whales, porpoises, albatross and marine species flourish in the marine environment. Part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary also bumps up against coastal Southern Marin.

Other new rules for sanctuaries prohibit:

- Harmful discharges from cruise ships and other large vessels.

- Discharges beyond the boundaries of the sanctuaries that enter and damage the sanctuaries' resources.

- Abandoning vessels.

- Introducing non-native species.

- Disturbing or killing sensitive wildlife like marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles.

"They have been working on the regulations for some time and put a lot of effort into it," said Terri Watson of San Rafael, executive director for the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. "I'm confident they heard all the issues from all sides."

Sanctuary officials will work with the U.S. Coast Guard as well as researchers to help enforce the new rules. Violations are subject to citations and fines.

"There are many things affecting the sanctuaries: tourism, proposals for wave energy, invasive species, oil spills, they need to be better protected," Schramm said.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at


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