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'Peter Benchley Shark Conservation' Awards Given Out To Spotlight Efforts To Protect Sharks

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NEW YORK, New York -- The Shark Research Institute created the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Awards to ensure continuation of his conservation efforts on behalf of sharks. On May 8, 2007, the Awards will be presented in three categories: media, scientific research and advocacy. The recipients are Sharkwater, a documentary film; and Ecocean, a computer program which utilizes the body patterns of whale sharks to catalogue and track the global movements of individual animals. Sonja Fordham is receiving the award for her outstanding efforts as an advocate for shark conservation at national and international forums.

In the 1970s, Peter Benchley’s fictional best-seller, JAWS generated a fear of sharks simply because so little was known about them. By the 1980s, that fear had given away to curiosity, resulting in an unprecedented amount of research on sharks. “In the 1990s, as sharks became target species for Asian markets, scientific data were available to combat threats to sharks — data which existed because of the fascination in sharks that Peter had sparked,” said Marie Levine, Executive Director of the Shark Research Institute. "Throughout his life, Peter remained a spokesman for sharks and an ardent shark conservationist.”

Sharks are critical to the balance of the ocean ecosystem — the life support system of our planet. But shark populations around the globe are plummeting; it is estimated that as many as 100 million sharks are being killed each year. Most are being slaughtered for their fins — a tasteless ingredient of sharkfin soup, a dish whose popularity is being driven by the shadowy underworld of the sharkfin industry. The Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Awards call attention to the plight of sharks and spotlight those who are working internationally to protect sharks as valuable ocean resources.

The Shark Research Institute (SRI) is an international multidisciplinary non-profit organization that sponsors and conducts research on sharks and promotes the conservation of sharks. One conservation method used by SRI is creating value for sharks as sustainable natural resources for the tourism industry, particularly in developing countries. By so doing, steady revenue streams are generated for local fishers that might otherwise slaughter the sharks for immediate gain. SRI has the oldest and largest whale shark tracking program in the world. Other programs include satellite and radio telemetry, behavioral and DNA studies of sharks, environmental advocacy, publications and public education.

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