June 1: Diving Down and Standing Up for Sharks

There is no disputing that the fate of global shark populations is looking bleak. We’ve all heard and read about the problems induced from shark fining and over fishing. It should be common knowledge by now…..but its not!! Despite recent increases in scientific and public awareness concerning sharks, i am still amazed at how many people are still not aware of it. Besides my current research into blue shark spatial dynamics, i also work part time as a waiter and magician. Naturally i talk to my customers about my line of work with sharks and it still amazes me that people are still blissfully unaware of any problems faced by them….the majority have never even heard of shark fin soup and consider sharks aggressive man eaters! Obviously public naivety is still a major issue concenring shark conservation. There are people out there trying to change this however.

On Thursday of this week, Trevor Hutton of South Africa, broke the national free diving record after achieving a constant weight free dive to 70m. Trevor performed the dive in the shark infested waters off Scottburgh, SA, an area that is heavily targeted by local and foreign vessels to slaughter sharks. His dive was in aid of sharks! His campaign is shinning light on the senseless killing of sharks by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board within the protected areas of the Aliwal Shoal. This “protected” area is subject to heavy decimation of sharks by anglers and native/foreign fishing vessels and highlights the inadequate compliance to conservation efforts. His projected is linked to the AfriOceans campaign “Wanted! Dead or Alive?”

Also today, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa made a public showcase to burn hundreds of siezed illegal shark fins. The fins of nurse sharks were confiscated by Honduran navy in April in the nations captial, Tegucigapla. Its great to see such a high political figure taking a stand for the countries commitment to protecting local sharks. In a speech given by the president, he addresses the importance of sharks in maintaining the health of the oceans and that local shark populations can generate more revenue through eco-tourism.

Last June, a 92,665 mile exclusion zone for shark fishing was implemented around he Honduran country on both Caribbean and Pacific sides, creating a shark sanctuary similar to those in Maldives and Palau. The combination of such dramatic public demonstrations against shark fishing, with comprehensive protection and enforcement, will no doubtingly be highly advantageous in securing the future of Honduran shark populations.

Raising shark awareness and implementing conservation protocols would not be possible without the scientific research to support it. I attended a very interesting talk yesterday by PhD student James Lea from Plymouth University. He spoke about the beginnings of a comprehensive study into the shark populations of the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is relatively understudied when compared to the Atlantic, Pacific and Australian waters. His work will hopefully record the population structuring of the shark species that inhabit the various islands and reefs of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Due an historically understudied shark population, the results from his research will not only be hugely interesting, but also be of great use in establishing further protection and regulations out there.

Without combing scientific knowledge with public awareness campaigns, we are fighting a losing battle! I would like to think blogs like this and similar ones such as “Sharks Need Love”, are raising awareness of the plight of the shark. We live in a world where celebrities and nobodies are stalked by millions of online people (Rihanna, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Justin Beiber). Imagine the amount of people they could reach by just posting one comment…..instead of posting pictures of there rat like dogs new diamond tiara, or “leaked” nude pictures of themselves flashing their nipples! Not only that, imagine if influential Chinese celebrities were to do that…..attack the problem at the source! Change peoples perseption on the consumption of shark fin soup. It is all completly possible, but the polictics behind the revenue generated from fin trading stops much of the progression!

If you get a second tweet, facebook, email people……conservation through awareness! Eventually the actions by individuals can resonate throughout a population and the concerns of many will be heard by the people that can actually make a difference!

Christopher Bird


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