The conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia has taken the novel step of buying the commercial Great Barrier Reef shark fishing licence to protect the animals and other species in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and beyond. The group is seeking donations to  raise $100,000 to cover the cost of the license, which allows the owner to drag a 1.2 km net anywhere along the length reef and indiscriminately kill almost anything that swims into it.

“We’re seeking donations to buy and retire a shark fishing licence. It’s a new approach to conservation,” says Gilly Llewellyn, the conservation director of WWF Australia. “This will save at least 10,000 sharks each year, prevent dugongs, turtles and dolphins being killed as bycatch, and help the Reef heal after the worst coral bleaching in its history.”

The group reports that shark catch on the Reef increased more than 80 percent, from 222 tons in 2014 to 402 tons in 2015. This means that a total of 100,000 sharks were caught in 2015.

WWF Australia

The net indiscriminately kills almost all animals that get caught in it. Credit: Dutch Shark Society

The nets kill tens of thousands of young sharks, including the endangered hammerheads, annually. Apparently, hammerhead sharks population have dropped by 80 percent in Queensland.

It does not help that shark species mature very slowly and reproduce very few offsprings. If no measures will be taken to save these apex predators, the Reef will also suffer. WWF Australia says that the sharks are important to Reef health and aid recovery from coral bleaching.

WWF Australia also aims to save dugongs, turtles and dolphins, which also get caught in the net. These animals get trapped unintentionally and held underwater until they drown.

Earlier this month, a dead dugong was discovered in north of Townsville with lacerations and scratches that suggest it got caught in the fishing net. As of 2011, only 600 dugongs remain between Cooktown in the north and near Bundaberg in the south.