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Cook Islands | Former shark smuggler now in charge of enforcement at one of Pacific’s largest MPAs

Rarotonga, Cook IslandsIn a back room of a government ministry in Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, a former shark smuggler keeps watch over a wall of monitors. They display a satellite view of the world: red, yellow, and black dots and triangles prowl through the oceans, representing licensed fishing vessels of all nationalities and their reputation for abiding by the law.

Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia introduces Captain Sai, who, before the government hired him, was known to inspectors as the region’s top shark poacher. As a young captain of a longline fishing boat in Fiji he’d sell fins to the Asian market, some of which fetch hundreds of dollars. Today, he's the inspector in charge of enforcing the Cook Island’s strict sanctuary, which aims to protect sharks from poachers and keep their fins off the market.

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