Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Say No to Shark Fin Soup - Campaign Launches in China!

The last six months have been hectic, with both Paul and me working on several global shark campaigns with some incredibly talented and passionate folks (and thus, the long pause in postings!). This month, the first campaign “Say No to Shark Fin Soup” launches in China. And we couldn’t be more excited about its potential.

(English version of the online site... Brilliant design and illustrations by Paul Wildman. And fantastic pictures from Eric Cheng. Be sure to check out the compelling video from Shawn Heinrichs as well.)

“Say No to Shark Fin Soup” is a grassroots campaign, geared specifically at primary consumers of Shark Fin Soup, in the hopes of igniting a positive awareness movement regarding shark fin soup and empowering consumers to make a difference by choosing not to consume it. Working closely with WildAid, Shark Savers is launching the campaign on and offline in conjunction with a new Yao Ming PSA (which Shark Savers played a large role in funding).

(PSA in English - check out the site for the Mandarin version. This PSA is playing on several channels in China.)

This is a full-fledged advocacy campaign that allows consumers of shark fin in China to take direct, meaningful action and curb demand and gives them all the tools they need to do so!

In addition to the PSA, we are placing 1000 outdoor billboards in Shanghai and Beijing to further our reach. Last month, our fundraising drive was OUTRAGEOUSLY successful, with us almost doubling our goal in a matter of weeks. We are so thrilled with the outpouring of support and all of the concerned people around the world willing to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, for sharks! We are still raising funds, as we hope to extend the campaign to other cities, like Hong Kong and the U.S., so if you haven’t done so, please consider buying a billboard. For only $100 dollars, you can buy a billboard for a whole year.. And it works! Last year, WildAid had 200 billboards in Beijing for 3 months and 19% of Beijingers responding remembered having seen the boards and 82% of those people said they would stop or reduce their consumption of shark fin soup.

(This year's billboard - going up on bus stops all over China!)

As an important part of the campaign, we developed an online component complete with four grass roots campaigns that include downloadable materials and an additional video that should greatly magnify the impact of the campaign. Everything has been designed and written for the primary consumers of shark fin soup.

The PSA and billboards featuring Yao Ming are designed to bring awareness and then, the website is provided to allow them to learn more. As people come to the web site for more information, they will discover three persuasive reasons not to eat the soup, which were developed based on considerable research into the target audience:

1) Shark can contain high concentrations of toxic mercury

2) Shark fin soup is the primary cause of the rapid and severe eradication of sharks

3) Sharks play a critical role in the ocean environment and their elimination can be highly destructive to the oceans and our future marine food supply

As far as we know, this is the first campaign of its kind for sharks in China. And, taken together with the PSA and billboards, the campaign is probably the most integrated and far-reaching conservation campaign ever conducted in China.

(Chinese version of the printable handout for restaurants - requesting them to stop serving shark fin soup.)

The advocacy campaign allows consumers of shark fin in China take a pledge to "Say 'no' to shark fin soup" following in Yao's (big) footsteps. Then, we empower them to take even more action - ranging from helping brides to make important decisions at their weddings to enabling diners to approach restaurants serving shark fin soup to appealing to corporations to act ethically during business dinners - with a series of downloadables. We are putting it all into the hands of those who can make the biggest difference for sharks.

The site launched last week in China as part of WildAid's Chinese web site in both English and Mandarin. (Can you believe the Shark Savers site is banned there?) We are in the process of integrating this into Shark Savers web site as we extend the campaign to all parts of the world - starting with the U.S. - in 2010.

(More downloadables - an educational brochure in Mandarin.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Top Ten Ways You Can Save Sharks

So you don’t eat shark fin soup or live in a country that considers it part of its culture? Doesn’t matter. You can still make a difference in the shark issue and save your share of the 100,000,000 killed a year.

Most likely, the sale of shark products is legal in your town, yes - your town. The local restaurants, grocery stores, health food stores, beauty salons and even pet stores may sell shark. Chances are also good your country is also responsible for the supply. Shocked? Believe it. The US, UK, France, Spain, and Portugal join Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan in the top 20 largest shark fishing nations.

Even if your country isn’t on the list, sharks and their habitats probably aren’t effectively protected – did you know Australia allows commercial shark fishing in the Great Barrier Reef – a World Heritage Site? And, no matter where you live, the myths about sharks as bloodthirsty man-eaters are being perpetuated – dangerous mis-truths standing in the way of their conservation. Think sharks are evil re-incarnated? Watch this video, then say that.

So, here are ten easy things you can do:

# 1) Do not consume or purchase shark - it’s dangerous.
It isn’t just the soup. Do not eat shark steaks or meat, don’t buy any shark or stingray leather products, leave the shark teeth and jaws in live sharks – where they belong.

This isn’t just for the sharks’ health – it’s for yours. Shark meat (including fins) carries warnings due to its high mercury levels from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the World Health Organization. If you want to know what mercury does, just google “mercury poisoning” and prepare to be horrified. Still want to eat it?

# 2) Volunteer your time.
Become a spokesperson or local organizer for our campaigns. Give a presentation at a school or event. (Its easy. Shark Angels or Shark Savers can provide them – or just grab this one off SlideShare.)

# 3) Be aware, informed consumers.
Know what you are buying. Often shark is relabeled as other types of fish, like rock salmon, included in fish patties like pollock, or hidden from consumers – as shark ingredients are not always labeled like chondroitin which can be made from shark cartilage.

# 4) Take your business elsewhere.
Do not support any restaurant or store that sells shark products or shark fin soup and inform them of your concerns. Educate them about why you are making this choice and ask them to make the same decision.

# 5) Support the cause.
Join and donate to shark conservation organizations. There are many ways to save sharks (science & research, direct action, legislation, grass roots activism.) Find an organization you identify with and don’t just join them – make a donation. They desperately need funding. A few of my favorites include: Shark Savers, Sea Shepherd, and WildAid – but chose the one right for you.

# 6) If you must eat it, only eat shark-friendly fish.
Since over ½ of the 100,000,000 sharks caught yearly are caught as by-catch, only eat sustainably caught seafood – or better, don’t eat anything from the seas.

If you do eat fish, download a sustainable seafood card and carry it with you. Most likely, one exists. You may even be able to download a cool iPhone App - like the one from Monterey Bay. You can even SMS a database of sustainable choices when out and about in South Africa, so I am quite certain no matter where you are, there are NO excuses not to make informed decisions.

# 7) Spread the enlightenment.
Increase your Shark IQ. Learn more then teach others. Host a local screening of Sharkwater then a have discussion afterwards. Shark Savers makes it easy to do from invitations to a discussion guide.

# 8) Keep sharks out of your cosmetics.
Never use any products (including makeup, lotions and deodorants) that contain Squalene - shark liver oil. In fact, just buy cruelty free.

# 9) Develop a voice.
Be heard. Blog, write articles, appeal to media outlets and help dispel the myths. Don’t support media outlets that demonize sharks. Sharks aren't evil re-incarnated. Watch this video.

# 10) Make your vote count.
Even if you aren’t living in country that is heavily consuming sharks, chances are, your country is part of the problem. The US and many countries in the EU are responsible for catching more sharks than most other countries in the world. Support legislation that stops shark fishing, protects shark habitats, and ends overfishing. It’s not just about the sharks – it’s about the oceans.

And, bonus points if you make sharks more valuable alive than dead and support responsible (strong emphasis here) shark diving tourism. But that is a blog for a different day.

You can and should make a difference before there aren’t sharks left. In fact a recent IUCN report has identified over 1/3 of all shark species (more than 400 in total) are facing extinction – some in our lifetimes. Destroying sharks and the oceans isn't a legacy I want to leave for future generations. You?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thank you Palau! Sharks can keep their fins.

Last April, Palau announced they were considering legislation to legalize shark fishing for foreign vessels in their water. Yes – Palau. A country who relies upon tourism for over 60% of their GDP – the majority of that being dive tourism.

Over the last several months, Shark Savers, with the support of several international and local Palau organizations, has been actively conducting a campaign to protest this legislation, engaging citizens of the world to appeal to the government of Palau through individual letters and through a petition. And in that time, countless letters have been written while the petition gained over 4,500 signatures; many from tourists who had or were planning on visiting Palau.

A month ago, we received notice that an independent governmental committee had assessed the legislation and made the recommendation to repeal this legislation – in part thanks to the outpouring of support from folks who participated in our campaign.

This month, I am sure everyone is aware by now that Palau has completely changed their stance. A true 180 degree strategy shift. Instead of opening their waters, Palau has unequivocally closed them – creating the world’s first national shark sanctuary. 240,000 square miles protecting 130 species of sharks. And while Palau, like so many other countries, does not have the funds to enforce the sanctuary to the level needed (a recent flyover revealed 70 long lining boats in these waters) and our work is clearly not done, it is an important step. One that deserves some recognition!

Please sign the thank you card to President Toribiong and Palau. We will be presenting this to him to celebrate this win and show everyone that together, we can protect sharks. Hopefully this attention ignites much more positive change.

And besides, it is so nice to sign something positive related to shark conservation, isn't it? We would like to get at least 10,000 signatures, so please have everyone you know sign it.


Monday, September 28, 2009

There's more to South Africa than Cage Diving: Don't miss the sharks of Aliwal Shoal

(Photo by Mark Van Coller: www.earthphotos.co.za)

My article on Aliwal Shoal - my favorite place on earth - is running this month in Sport Diver. Initially, I was thrilled to bring some US attention to the spot and to an operator, that to me, represents exactly what you are looking for when you go shark diving. Someone who cares about the sharks, who is passionate, who is knowledgable, and who walks the talk - in this case donating, even in hard times, an incredible amount to shark conservation. When people ask me to define the perfect shark dive operators, I think of only a few special people around the world. And, Mark & Gail Addison are leaders amongst them.

(Mark ensuring we get our footage for the Remove the Nets campaign.)

I guess I naively didn't realize that everything was for sale - and instead of running the story with the ONLY operator I would EVER dive with in Aliwal, they ran it with the operator that presumably paid the most in advertising dollar. And while not stating it outright, it certainly implies this is the operator I dive with - and an operator the reader should contact. An incredible shame and lost opportunity for anyone who reads the article and doesn't do their research.

For the record - go to Aliwal. And, when you go, don't consider diving with anyone other than Blue Wilderness, and two incredibly special people that will always be some of the best friends the sharks of South Africa have. We need more people on this earth like them.

And now, the story. (I prefer the original un-edited version, of course!)

(Yes, that is three shark species in one picture at Aliwal.)

Backflipping over the approaching pack of black tips distracted by the whale shark above, I came face to face with a pair of fifteen-foot tiger sharks sneaking up on me from behind. A nightmare? Hardly. Try shark lovers’ paradise.

Those who crave the big animal experience – particularly the dorsal-finned variety – know South Africa has some of the sharkiest waters in the world. But, tragically, many stop at a cage diving experience in Cape Town, missing out on some of the best shark diving on the planet. I, however, prefer my sharks outside of cages, and it is a particular striped species I crave - which is how I first learned about Aliwal Shoal. 40 kilometres south of Durban, infamous for its tigers, Aliwal seems like a far way to go – that is until you actually get into the water. One day at Aliwal, and you will go to any length to return.

A shark diving experience can be graded on five distinct factors: activity, number of animals, size, species diversity, and interaction quality. Having dived some of the best shark spots in the world, the legendary Aliwal Shoal managed to exceed my every expectation in seconds. Grade: A+.

Slipping eagerly into the water, the sharks revealed themselves in layers, three species deep. A handful of hulking Zambezis lurking shyly at the bottom, the unmistakable presence of no less than seven gargantuan tigers gracefully gliding in the water column, and too many oceanic blacktips darting about at the surface like over-active terriers to count. My head was spinning; this was shark sensory overload.

I spent the next two hours at 15 feet completely spellbound, as the sharks took turns personally introducing themselves – each with their own distinctive flair. I got to know them all: the blacktips, full of vim and vigour, boldly approaching until they were close enough that you could feel their electric energy, the tigers with their favorite, disarming game - sneaking up only to coolly change intent as soon as they were caught in the act, and the Zambezi as distrusting as shy children until their curiosity inevitably got the best of them.

It was the kind of dive that puts you off macro diving forever. It was the kind of dive you speak of to complete strangers. And in my case, it was the kind of dive that changes your life.

Since then, Aliwal has become my passion and shameless addiction. Because Aliwal delivers some of the most extraordinary and unimaginable big animal encounters the ocean can offer. Believe it or not, a dive with 50 tiger, blacktip and zambezi sharks is just an average day.

The article the way it should have been:
The actual article is below:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thank you Windsor! The World's First Shark Friendly Town is in England

What does it mean to be shark friendly? Well, in Windsor, England, it means no shark products are sold anywhere in the city limits: not a single cartilage pill at the local herbal shop, not a single rock salmon steak at a restaurant, not a single bowl of shark fin soup, and not a single shark tooth trinket at a souvenir stand. Yes, the favorite home of the queen is now the FIRST place in the world to be considered officially “Shark Friendly”.

A few weeks ago, Kim and I were hosted by Dale Bowie for the festivities, whose brainchild it was to have a Shark Awareness week. It was a well-planned, wonderful event geared around raising awareness, and funds, for shark related causes.

An informational donation booth in the center of the town, evening screenings and lectures, school presentations, a raffle that raised over $5,000 USD for shark causes including The Shark Trust, Sea Shepherd and Shark Angels, a special batch of Lush’s Shark Fin Soap on sale, an organized egg case hunt, a shark dive, and much more - all culminating into the finale: the presentation of the world’s first Shark Friendly award to the Deputy Mayor of Windsor. (Shame, the Queen Mum herself wasn’t in the neighborhood.)

Indeed, Dale and his local group of dive and shark enthusiasts had managed to get all of the shark products out of Windsor, ensuring that not only was this event special – it was the first of its kind. Well done Dale, Sea Shepherd UK and Aquatic Element.

Now let’s hope this sets in motion a far bigger movement and soon, many more localized efforts will kick off, with many more municipalities joining suit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Be a Shark Friendly Consumer... Help Protect Sharks When You Buy

Many people assume that because they don’t eat shark fin soup – then they can’t possibly be contributing to the demise of the sharks. And while shark fin soup does account for a considerable amount of shark consumption, there are many other culprits. It isn’t just something that can be blamed on a single culture or country.

Often, I find many people surprised – including myself – to discover what shark is actually used in. And it isn’t always the usual, easy to identify products, say with the word shark in the product name, like shark steaks, shark teeth or shark leather. Certain energy drinks, pet supplements, vitamins, lotions, dog chew toys, and even lipsticks - to name but a few - are all known to contain shark products.

One quite underhanded technique restaurants and stores often employ is masking the use of shark by changing the name. Take for instance, the poor, little Spiny Dogfish Shark. Not a well-known, charismatic shark so it remains in the shadows of its sexy cousins: the tigers, bulls, and hammerheads. But, the Spiny Dogfish Sharks’ population is plummeting worldwide and critically facing extinction – in fact, it is already considered commercially extinct in certain areas. And this relatively unknown shark was one of two (or three if you run with the folks that put the sawfish in this group) being considered last year for addition to the CITES Appendix that currently protects only white, whale and basking sharks from international trade.

Who would eat this shark? Well, if you live in the UK, maybe you or someone you know. How is that possible? Because these sharks have been re-labeled in the UK to a more, well, appealing term: Rock Salmon. Mmmm… Sounds far more tasty to those who eat fish, no?

Indeed, many of the fish & chip shops that so many Brits know and love commonly have Rock Salmon on the menu. And even if it isn’t on the menu, a simple inquiry will lead you to discover it is often available by request or even featured as a special. That’s why many of us in shark conservation have stopped frequenting these places. We would never support a restaurant or store that sold shark – even if the chips are the best thing we have ever tasted.

That is why we were thrilled to find a fish & chips shop in Windsor on our Shark Awareness week visit that was indeed shark friendly. Dale Bowie, the organizer of the event, introduced us to it. (And of course it would have to be – since he was able to ensure Windsor is the first town ever to be shark friendly.) No rock salmon sold here! Good for you, Ronnie Shaw.

For some of us, like Steve Roest, CEO of Sea Shepherd, it was the first batch of chips enjoyed in a long, long while. And for some of us, it was a first – and I must say, with the malt vinegar, I think I was pretty much eating little slices of heaven – that was until I couldn’t stand watching Steve drool as I enjoyed them, having scarfed his own down too quickly. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for “seconds”, but only because it was actually “fourths” considering he had managed to weasel half of both Kim's and my chips as well.

The moral of this story, besides of course exercising some control when consuming chips with others lest they out you on Facebook to the world, is to always be an aware, informed consumer. Know what is in that “pollack” - processed "white fish" - you are eating in the form of crab sticks, patties or fish cakes because it can possibly be shark. Don’t take or drink any supplements with “Chondroitin“ - derived from shark cartilage - in them. Never use any cosmetic products (including makeup, lotions and deodorants) that contain Squalene which is shark liver oil – in fact just buy the cruelty-free variety all the time. No matter how much you like those shark’s tooth earrings, or the shark leather wallet, don’t buy them. And under no circumstances order the Rock Salmon, let alone eat at a restaurant that serves it. In fact, if you are really serious about protecting sharks, since over ½ of that 100,000,000 sharks caught yearly are caught as by-catch, only eat sustainably caught seafood, or, better yet, do like I do and just refrain from eating anything from the sea. That way, no matter how a fish is re-labeled, you can be sure you are doing your part.

To enjoy Shark Friendly chips when in Windsor, visit: Ronnie Shaw's Great British Fish & Chips on Thames Road right across from the castle. Tell Ronnie we sent you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sharks Board doing its civil duty to destroy the planet... More white sharks killed

And the killing continues...

Sharks Board caught a 4.2 meter white shark (almost 1 ton) on a drumline three days ago in Zinkwazi and a 2.8 meter white shark yesterday.
Both sharks are protected in South Africa - and world wide - and on the IUCN red list. Apparently there is much controversy around how KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board caught the sharks as usual (reportedly they released the first shark from a drumline - which is highly unlikely since the mortality rate of whites on drumlines is incredibly high), but the pictures speak for themselves and are particularly haunting. And of course, those who love the Jaws stereotype are all a flutter spreading the news.

Those of us who care about sharks and care about their conservation (or just care about this planet) need to take the effort up a notch. Especially now that the South Africa tourism department in a genius marketing ploy is encouraging people to come to South Africa to see their unique "big seven" (the only African nation to offer this) which in addition to the usual terrestrial animals includes whales and sharks now. Ironically, KZN Sharks Board reports to the same minister of tourism as well... So, which is it Minister, you want them dead for tourists or alive for tourists??? Pathetic.

Shark Angels - on Shark Nets from Shark Angels on Vimeo.

Please get involved at www.removethenets.com.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So... Why Sharks?

It is a much repeated narrative... I recant it time and time again. It invariably follows the question "What do you do?" and my answer, "I work for the sharks." After processing this response (usually unable to hide the shock and disbelief), "So, why sharks?" is blurted out. Or at least, that is the polite response I can share.

So why, with all of the other issues on the planet and with my 'client's' horrendous reputation for destruction, why on earth do I fight for sharks?

When you know the full story about sharks, it is really quite easy to understand.

While most people are aware of the plight of the charismatic ocean creatures, like the dolphins and whales, few know, often blinded by misguided fears, of the shark’s current fate. Sharks are disappearing at an alarming rate – their numbers down by 90% in some regions – with many species facing extinction during our lifetime. The IUCN released shocking numbers last month that over 1/3 of all shark species are threatened - with more to follow over the next several years. Over one hundred million sharks will be killed this year. That’s 11,432 every hour.

Out of sight out of mind.

Few know about this issue, because it happens so far away from us. Out in the oceans, in countries few of us will ever journey to, for a reason that is foreign to many of us.

And few of us care, as sharks have evolved into terrifying monsters that ironically, while often times fueling a mass hysteria, really only exist within our collective imagination. And thus, most share the inaccurate sentiment “the only good shark is a dead shark”.

Say the word “shark” and most people immediately imagine a bloodthirsty monster worthy of a “Jaws” remake. As a society, there are few things we fear more than sharks, with shark attacks consistently ranking as one of the top three most-feared natural dangers in most studies. Dip a toe in the ocean and you will be torn limb from limb. This makes it difficult for many people to understand why sharks are worth saving – let alone take measures to do so. And thus, countless animals continue to disappear without us noticing or caring.

But, the man-eating monster is a myth that Hollywood and the media have created in order to increase ratings and sell newspapers. Actual attacks far outpace reports – as do the severity of the incidents. You are more likely to be killed in a hunting accident, lightening strike or sand pit than a shark. In 2007, one person worldwide was killed by a shark bite. During that same period, 793 people died due to bicycle accidents and 49 died due to dog bites. Of the over 400 species of sharks, only a handful have been linked to any incidents with humans – that is less than 5% of all shark species. Indeed, the vast majority of sharks are harmless to humans.

Misunderstood and mal-aligned, the stakes at hand are life or death – not just for the sharks, but also our oceans.

The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food and air sources. And the livelihoods of millions that rely on the oceans for their main source of income. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world’s food source and more oxygen than all the rainforests combined.

As the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance. Remove sharks and that balance is seriously upset. Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.

An animal hunted.

In addition to the factors challenging all marine creatures - pollution, destruction of habitat, and elimination of food sources - sharks face an even more urgent threat: the demand for their fins are skyrocketing increasing their value exponentially. Indeed a single whale shark fin can sell for upwards of $50,000 USD. As the demand for shark fin far outweighs supply, no sharks are safe from desperate fisherman – sharks everywhere – even the handful that are protected and in the few areas that are protected - are under attack.

The incredibly lucrative market for shark fins is driving the slaughter. And this extinction trade full of greed and corruption is often likened to the illegal drug trade, as it is rife with murder, mafia, and millions of dollars. Fisherman desperate to feed their families will stop at nothing and are being driven to extremes, though it is only a handful of individuals who are benefiting – at an incredible cost to all of us.

It is a race against the clock to save these animals – and ourselves - from a looming demise. And those of us who fight for them clearly have their work cut out, having to take on the hardest public image campaign on the planet while at the same time battling desperate, violent foes... only the foes aren't the ones with the fins. But this fight, which few can or will take on, is a fight of the utmost urgency. And that is why I work for the sharks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shark Nets Wreaking Havoc

My article on Shark Nets ran in South Africa's DiveStyle magazine this month, the same month, ironically enough, that South Africa declared they are the only country to offer a "big seven" to tourists. What did they add to the list of tourist-attracting animals? Sharks and whales. Hmm...

So, sharks draw in enough tourists that South Africa has decided to position themselves uniquely as the only country to combine their viewing with lions, buffalo and rhinos, touting an experience like no other and hoping to draw in millions of tourists and dollars all in the name of viewing live sharks. And yet, that very same department - The Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs - is also killing them needlessly in KZN... for, um, tourists? Help me understand this.

Here is an overview on the Shark Net issue. Please go to our campaign site - Remove the Nets - to learn more:

It is hard to believe with all we know about sharks, including their dwindling numbers, their critical role in our oceans, and the small risk they actually pose to us, that the archaic process of killing these animals for bather “protection” still exists. But in KwaZulu-Natal, hundreds of harmless sharks - as well as turtles, dolphins and rays - still meet an untimely death every year as a result of the 28 kilometers of shark nets installed by KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB).

What are shark nets?

The concept is one of population control. Gill nets are installed in front of beaches to fish for sharks - and everything else that is unlucky enough to come across them - thus decreasing risks to bathers. Put simply, nets reduce local shark populations, and during their 60 years of installation in Natal, have had significant impacts on those populations, as well as other animals – all critical to the healthy aquatic ecosystem KZN is famous for.

What’s more, these nets are even installed in Marine Protected Areas without any species consideration. Indeed, KZNSB is the only fishery in South Africa that can legally kill endangered, protected species including the Great White and Whale Shark.

While the nets have been responsible for the death of over 33,000 sharks in the last thirty years, less than 12% were targeted species (whites, zambezis, tigers). 25,000 harmless sharks were killed that did not pose any threat to bathers. However, their deaths do pose a threat to the health of the environment – and the economy.

The nets’ bycatch is appalling during the same period: 2,211 turtles, 8,448 rays, and 2,310 dolphins. The nets caught 100% more dolphins and turtles and 800% more rays than zambezis. Sadly, all species of turtles and many of dolphins are listed as threatened or endangered.

Nets are so disastrous to the ecosystem, they were declared as “environmentally hazardous” in Australia, the only other country in the world that utilizes shark nets. The New South Whales government listed shark nets as a Key Threatening Process due to impacts on the ragged-tooth sharks, turtles, humpback whales and other wildlife. And, the NSW government is required to develop a Threat Abatement Plan, investigating humane and less ecologically damaging alternatives.

Fears running wild

Ironically, nets exist for psychological reasons far more than safety reasons. You are more likely to be killed in a hunting accident or lightening strike than by a shark. In 2007, one person worldwide was killed by a shark, while 793 people died in bicycle accidents and 49 died from dog bites. Of the over 100 species of sharks in Southern Africa, the vast majority are harmless to humans.

Throughout the world, people get into the water without shark deterrents; the extremely slim chance of even encountering a shark - much less being bitten - does not weigh heavily in their decision-making. Nor does it merit unnecessarily killing a threatened or harmless animal. In the last 100 years, there were over 4 times more shark bites in the United States than in Natal. And, there have never been nets in the U.S., including in the “shark bite capital” of the world, Volusia County, Florida. Even there, the risk of shark bite is so low that many more stitches are administered as the result of shell and glass lacerations than shark bites.

Not only do the nets pose considerable environmental issues, but they also pose economic issues, not to mention that the nets tarnish South Africa’s worldwide image as a leader in conservation. Live sharks are worth far more than dead ones. Shark diving in Aliwal Shoal generated an estimated R18 million during 2007, while cage diving in Gansbaai generates approximately R289 million per annum. Live sharks mean tourists, jobs and thriving economies. And that’s recurring income – not one time income when a shark is killed. Yes, while KZNSB is publicly funded, they do earn income selling shark products taken from their kill.

True, if one takes the nets at face value, there are far more destructive practices occurring worldwide. The nets are currently responsible for the deaths of between 500 - 700 sharks yearly, a very small percentage of the total number of sharks killed worldwide – or even in Southern Africa. Over one hundred million sharks will be killed this year. That’s 11,432 every hour. With some regional populations down 90%, we could witness the extinction of species during our lifetimes.

However, it is the mere existence of the nets that is the most damaging due to their impact on our collective psyches. Their installation reinforces our misguided and irrational fears of sharks, providing a very real example that our concerns are valid. This in turn fuels the biggest issue faced in shark conservation: the public’s apathy or even loathing towards sharks. The media-created and shark-net reinforced image of sharks makes it difficult for many people to understand why sharks are worth saving – let alone take measures to do so.

Misunderstood and mal-aligned, the stakes are life or death – and not just for sharks.

The frightening reality is, like them or not, we need sharks on this planet. Remove the apex predators from the oceans, and we are tampering with elements essential to our survival. And the livelihoods of the 400 million that rely on the oceans for their income. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that controls our planet’s temperature and weather, provides 1/3 of the world with food, and generates more oxygen than all the rainforests combined. Recent studies indicate that regional elimination of sharks caused disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.

Fortunately, there are many other options to the archaic practice of killing sharks with nets and drumlines, many of which have been implemented successfully in other locations – including the other coast of South Africa. Other methods of harmless deterrents such as electrical current, alloys, and chemicals are also being developed. If we can put a man on the moon, we certainly can determine a method to ensure sharks and humans can peacefully coexist in the shark’s domain. Programs like the Shark Spotters in the Western Cape prove that there are viable alternatives to shark nets and also, that education and awareness go far.

So why are there nets?

It could be said there was a time and place for nets. Years ago, the public knew little about sharks and the fear of attack was running high – and shark populations were far healthier than they are today. We could tolerate nets wreaking havoc on our world’s most important ecosystem, and implementing gill nets, the second most indiscriminate fishing method on the planet, was allowable, though thousands of harmless animals would subsequently be killed in the process. The public wanted and needed “protection” and nets served their purpose.

Since then, while shark fishing has skyrocketed eliminating a large percentage of shark populations, the public has been exposed to much information about the environment and biodiversity conservation as well as the sharks’ true behaviors towards humans. And many have gone far in proving there are other harmless shark deterrents. Shark conservation and the need to protect them is an established fact, as is the fact these animals are significantly misunderstood, with the actual risk of an incident being infinitesimal.

The days of killing animals out of fear are over. And one only need to look at Yellowstone Park, in the U.S., as a prime example as to the far-reaching impacts of these short-sighted acts. South Africa - a country whose environmental policies, fueled by booming eco-tourism, should be setting precedence for the world. At a time when we are racing through our natural resources at unsustainable rates, destroying wild animals simply because we can, or because of irrational fears fueled by a lack of knowledge, is no longer acceptable.

It is time for a change. It is time for the shark nets to be removed.

For several years now, many concerned citizens have spoken out against the nets. But this month, their voices have been united, fueling a unified effort to remove the nets. Save Our Seas, Shark Savers and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have joined forces with the support of SASC (South African Shark Conservancy) and AOCA (Afri Oceans Conservation Alliance) to help the public take back the waters of KwaZulu-Natal, providing a much-needed platform for a grassroots campaign.

The practice of killing sharks, and all else that come in contact with the nets, is an unnecessary and outdated practice that requires immediate examination and a short-term plan for termination. Consistent with the KZNSB Act of 2008, the Remove the Nets campaign insists the KZNSB commit their primary efforts to improving the environmental impact of their activities; the nets (and drumlines) are no longer an acceptable option. Through a public awareness and education campaign combined with new environmentally-friendly shark management approaches, all can peacefully coexist in the oceans.

Remove the Nets is a movement fueled by the public, who rightfully should determine the future of the nets. Ultimately, what this campaign achieves rests in your hands. Please become part of the solution. Visit www.removethenets.com to sign the petition and get involved.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nice Response Humana... I am definitely relieved now.

After writing an email 5 days ago to Humana, horrified they had recommended the millions of people that attend Taste of Chicago should east shark if they want to make a "healthier choice" (though the consumption of shark carries warnings from the EPA, FDA and World Health Organization), I finally received a response.

I received an email back from their PR today department thanking me for my "interest in the matter". It is reassuring to know "they are taking my thoughts on this matter into consideration." Silently, an asterisk appeared on their online literature indicating the "healthier choice" shark entree was not advisable for consumption by pregnant women and children - though if you attend the Taste, you certainly won't know this and the dish still remains on their list of recommendations and the material that was printed before the warning. A silent admission of guilt.

(Revised Humana literature available online.)

How is this healthy? The Department of Health in New York City and in the State of Florida recommend not consuming shark. So why is it ok for Chicagoans, Humana? And haven't we learned our lesson witnessing China struggle with its milk contamination? I guess saving face is just as important in US Corporations as well. Best start looking out for your own health - because your health care company certainly isn't.

(Revised Humana site.)