The announcements were made during a shark-conservation symposium in St Maarten co-hosted by the island’s government, St Maarten Nature Foundation, Bahamas National Trust and US-based NGO the Pew Charitable Trusts. Caribbean government leaders discussed shark conservation and shark-related tourism with international experts during the three-day event.

“We applaud the steps taken by Caribbean island governments to conserve sharks in their waters,“ said Sir Richard Branson, present at the conference in his role as ocean advocate. “To these governments, sharks are worth far more alive than dead. We are delighted and encouraged to see this bold action being taken to protect Caribbean eco-systems and bolster eco-tourism industries.”

“St Maarten and the Cayman Islands have joined a progressive group of leaders in global shark conservation by choosing to fully protect the diverse but vulnerable shark and ray species found in their waters,” said Luke Warwick, director of Pew’s global shark-conservation campaign.

“Establishing sanctuaries to protect all sharks makes clear that these top predators warrant the same status as other vulnerable marine wildlife that help attract eco-tourism, such as turtles and whales.”

Pew says it has worked since 2009 with governments around the world to establish shark sanctuaries in their territorial waters. The latest additions bring the worldwide total to 14, covering 6 million sq miles - an area bigger than Canada.

The other Caribbean shark and ray sanctuaries are in the Bahamas, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Honduras, Saba. Now the focus in the Caribbean will be on implementing sanctuaries in places such as Trinidad, cited at the conference as one of the biggest exporters of shark-fins, mainly to Hong Kong.