They are on a boat dock, hands coated with the innards of a yellowfin tuna, when Konini Rongo and Bella Smith learn that they live in one of the world’s largest shark sanctuaries.
The girls, both 17, are chopping up scraps next to a row of fishing boats at a port on Rarotonga, the biggest of the 15 Cook Islands. They volunteered to help American marine biologist Jessica Cramp place underwater cameras to spot sharks. But first comes the messy task of making bait, as Cramp, a veteran National Geographic explorer, tells them the story of the 484-million-acre protected area.
In 2011 Cramp moved to the South Pacific islands, where the reefs teem with sharks, to help launch a campaign for the sanctuary. Eighteen months later it was law, with a minimum $73,000 fine levied on any boat found selling or transporting shark parts in the Cook Islands’ exclusive economic zone.