Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gordon Ramsay - oh my!

Should Gordon be fired?

Prima vista, I would have to concur with Patric.
But then, I had to think about the many prominent Shark advocates that have started out as Shark killers - mainly because in those times, Sharks were being viewed as villains, killing Sharks was in no way being frowned upon and they just did not know better. Yes that was a long time ago and one would presume that in this day-and-age, people would be better informed.

Which begs the question, have things really changed?
Despite of improvements, the mainstream media like Discovery continue to propagate the negative stereotypes and thus the average public is very likely still poorly informed and very much anti Shark. Also and despite of knowing better, many charter captains like that guy in Florida (let alone this despicable individual) are obviously not educating their customers - and why would they as long as those Sharks are not being protected and a VIP is offering them money and exposure.
Solutions? (yeah I know I know)

With that in mind, can we really slam Ramsay for not having known?

It's a difficult one and it boils down to a personal judgment call.
What pushed me to the side of Ramsay was the generally libelous undertone of the article that broke the story. I believe Ramsay's spokesman when he states that Gordon would no longer support any type of shark fishing and hopes viewers who watched Shark Bait will be educated, like he was, to support these endangered species, and concur with Richard Peirce that the man has very likely changed his ways. One thing is clear, he has since done great things for the cause and deserves our gratitude for that. Plus, I must confess that I just happen to like people that use strong language (see above) in this age of politically correct wishy-washyness! :)
Long story short - in my book, Gordon remains a good man - for now!

But that would just be me!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shark Reef - the Bulls!

Fantastic pictures by Lill - click for detail!

Et voilà
- finally!
Here's the first research paper about our Bull Shark family!
Thankfully, Juerg has posted it on PLoS ONE, one of the open source journals and I can thus spare myself having to post any excerpts.
Just this.

Seasonal and Long-Term Changes in Relative Abundance of Bull Sharks from a Tourist Shark Feeding Site in Fiji

Juerg M. Brunnschweiler 1, Harald Baensch 2
1 ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, 2 Department of Biology, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, Nebraska, United States of America


Shark tourism has become increasingly popular, but remains controversial because of major concerns originating from the need of tour operators to use bait or chum to reliably attract sharks.
We used direct underwater sampling to document changes in bull shark relative abundance at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, a shark feeding site in Fiji, and the reproductive cycle of the species in Fijian waters. Between 2003 and 2009, the total number of Carcharhinus leucas counted on each day ranged from 0 to 40. Whereas the number of C. leucas counted at the feeding site increased over the years, shark numbers decreased over the course of a calendar year with fewest animals counted in November.
Externally visible reproductive status information indicates that the species' seasonal departure from the feeding site may be related to reproductive activity.

Long-term trend in relative abundance of C. leucas at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Fiji between 2003 and 2009.

Great job - but of course, 40 Bulls is so yesterday!
Last year, we've already had way more and my prediction stands than one day in 2011, we'll finally reach three digits! So far, chances for that really look good: we're now averaging 35+ and have already identified a dozen or so newbies, among which several large mature females. To see them pop by for the first time in over ten years of feeding is really quite remarkable and a good indication that Fiji's Bull Shark population is healthy and thriving!

And a paltry sixty named Bulls?
Check out the list: we've now nearly got double that!

Dark grey bars denote the number of identified sharks at the beginning of the respective year; light grey bars denote the number of individuals added to the list during the respective year.

Long story short?
We're not even scratching the surface, and the future looks bright indeed!

Plus, there's this.
Our data base is very likely the most exhaustive documentation of any commercial Shark dive anywhere. We've started collecting data in 2003 and have accumulated approx. 2,000 sets that include a plethora of variables about weather conditions, numbers and species composition, inter- and intra-specific dominance, feeding behavior and much more. Consequently, this paper is but a first excerpt, with already several more in the works that will focus on the various species and very possibly, even on social and other interactions - including those between our feeders and the animals!

Once again, this illustrates the value of long term monitoring.
As my favorite biodiversity and conservation blogger CJA Bradshaw correctly remarks (please read the post!), good ecological data are ESSENTIAL to avoid some of the worst ravages of biodiversity loss over the coming decades and centuries. And I may add, this applies particularly to marine ecosystems and also, to Sharks! We are thankfully witnessing a global pro-Shark movement that has already led to the establishment of Shark Sanctuaries in Palau, the Maldives, Raja Ampat, Honduras, Hawaii and now the CNMI. Hopefully, they will achieve what they were designed to do, i.e.ensure the long term survival of those Shark stocks.
But although I am hopeful that they will, only time will tell - and we will only know if we establish baseline counts and set in place good monitoring systems!

Wouldn't this be is a great task for us in the industry?
We are the in many ways the gate keepers and should also be the stewards of those ecosystems that give us so much joy on top of providing for our sustenance. Plus, and contrary to both the researchers and the fisheries officials: we are always out there and thus best suited for collecting uninterrupted long term data sets.

Please think about it.
Yes it's tedious and yes we are busy - but as Bradshaw said, it really is essential!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snorkeling with Sharks?

Somebody just sent me this video.
It is by Jim Barley of the Shark Lab and like many of his productions, it depicts Shark biologists having fun - including plenty of grabbing, petting and riding, of which I'm really not a fan. But that's not the topic.
Check it out.

Didya see it?
If not, watch what unfolds after 1:20 between the Hammerhead and the free diver!
Now, in my book, Great Hammerheads count among the more harmless species: yes older individuals are true submarines - and yet, as anybody who has tried in Tiputa knows all too well, they are normally excruciatingly timid and extremely hard to approach. Also, the attack statistics for this species are both unspectacular and ambiguous. With that in mind, this was just stuff that happens, nothing to get too excited about.

And still, I am very much reminded about what Jeremy wrote here when talking about GWS.

Divers swimming with white sharks do not know what the whites' triggers are since they haven't yet triggered them and if they do they are unlikely to live to tell the tale.
They could be as subtle as a current that the diver is struggling to swim against - I bet (though I'm of course guessing) that white sharks are sophisticated enough to pick up on that and instantly suspect an easy meal.
By the time these divers find out what triggers a gws attack it's going to be too late.

In brief, I just think that snorkeling with large predatory Sharks is essentially stupid.
And despite of what I've said here, this probably applies to free diving as well - and yes I've changed my mind! I fully understand that proficient free diving is an art in itself and not really comparable - but in the end, both snorkelers and free divers will have to get back to the surface where chances are that in the eyes of those large predatory Sharks, they become one thing: potential food.
Especially in baited conditions!

Did I just sense some violent gnashing of teeth from Bolivia? :)
Before anybody gets too excited - as always, this is merely a reflection about commercial vs private Shark diving!
The more I dive with those large Sharks, the more I'm actually impressed by their gentle disposition and tolerance of us intruders - but at the same time, having witnessed their raw power and instinctual reaction to stimuli, the more I'm becoming cautious! Mind you: that doesn't equate frightened! At least on our dive, I've never even remotely experienced any situation where I had the impression that a Shark was sizing me up as potential prey - but still, stuff does happen and ever so often, a Shark will behave in ways requiring great presence of mind, experience and also luck - see the reaction of that free diver in the video.
But that's certainly not what we can generally expect from our customers and certainly not what we want them to personally experience!

Anyway, just a reflection.
Please take it with the usual grain of salt.

Jimmy - get well soon!

Thank you George for posting the following video.
It really says it all: it was an accident - and if one has thousands of close interactions with predatory Sharks, those things will just happen. Just ask any reputable Shark researcher! :)
Not to worry!

Kudos to Jimmy (Abernethy, with an "e"!) and to WPTV for having managed to turn this into what is essentially very much a pro-Shark story!

So from all of us here in Fiji, here's to Jimmy's full and speedy recovery - Jimmy, may you be back with your beloved animals real soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

CNMI - done!

Just received:

Good news...
The CNMI bill is being signed by Governor Fitial as we speak!!!! HOOOORAY

Now we can concentrate on Guam.

If you are as happy about this news as I am, write a letter of congratulation to Governor Fitial. He withstood some great pressure from fisheries groups that were lobbying to veto the bill.

Stefanie Brendl

PS.... YEAH!

PS more details, praise (and self promotion...) here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And now for something really beautiful!

I'm sure you need a break after so many gloomy posts!

So there: fantastic cinematography and a testament to Howard's unparalleled skills.
In his words, I created this video several years ago as a subtle indictment of over-fishing and gill nets. It was captured exclusively on HDCAM with a Sony 900 camera. Original music is by Alan Williams.


Stefanie - Help required!

Just got a message from Stefanie asking for help.
Whilst the state of commercial Shark diving in Hawaii is going from terrible to even worse to plain ridiculous, she continues to doggedly pursue global Shark conservation.

The new battlefields: Guam and the Northern Marianas.
In both territories, forward looking politicians have introduced Shark fin bills modeled on the Hawaiian example - and now, some vigorous last ditch opposition by the usual interests is threatening to derail the process.

Richard at RTSea has already posted the details so no need to repeat them here.
Please, take the time to read through the post and to follow the recommendations. Like in Hawaii, this is good tangible local conservation and highly worthy of your support.

Thank you!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tuna Fisheries - it's complicated!

I must confess that my head is spinning.
I recently had a conversation with one of my very smart friends about the plight of the Northern Bluefin and he said look at the European subsidies. Without those, much of the large scale fisheries would not be commercially viable and the overfishing would not be happening.

The above graphic, already posted here, appears to be confirming just that.
Same same for this recent important paper by U.R. Sumalia & al. Thankfully, the Pew has taken the time to summarize it in this fantastic synopsis that I invite everybody to read in its entirety.
This is the ingress:

Ocean Science Summary: Subsidizing Global Fisheries

Global fisheries receive billions of dollars in subsidies each year.
Although some of this money, such as that to improve fisheries management, can promote sustainable fishing practices, other funding can lead to overfishing in the world’s oceans. Capacity-enhancing subsidies, for example for fuel or boat construction, reduce costs for fishers, enabling them to increase their capacity and catch more fish. The unintended consequence of this kind of assistance is that encouraging fishers to bring in larger catches contributes to unsustainable fishing practices over the long-term.

Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia and his co-authors improved upon previous estimates of global subsidies using updated data and methodology and calculated global amounts and types of fisheries subsidies for 2003.
They found global subsidies totaled roughly $27 billion, 60 percent of which went toward unsustainable capacity-enhancing subsidies. Instead of continuing to invest billions of dollars into activities that aggravate overfishing, the authors suggest directing those funds toward fishery conservation and improved management.
This Pew Ocean Science Series report is a summary of the scientists’ findings.

And there's more evidence, e.g this report by the WWF, this remarkable and shocking interactive map by Fishsubsidy and these recent statements by Maria Damanaki.

So, can we save the oceans by eliminating all subsidies?
It sure looks like a beginning - maybe. Alas, the more I try to explore the topic of global fisheries, the more I come to realize that the issue is unbelievably multifaceted and that there are no quick fixes and out of the box solutions - incidentally very much confirming my visceral unease about the strategies, or lack of, adopted in the Doha debacle!

Take the fisheries for Tuna.
It interests me insofar as it is well researched and documented and mutatis mutandis, in many ways an excellent proxy for the fisheries for Sharks. Prima vista, and like in the case of Sharks, the situation appears crystal clear: one Asian villain is enticing the fishermen to fish a species into extinction.
But then, I stumble across this remarkable (and probably accurate) in depth exposé and read with consternation that it is none other than the so much reviled Japan that is urging a reduction in world wide quotas of Tuna, demanding better management and actively combating (yes this would again be Maria!) illegal, unreported and unregulated catches! Not plausible? Independent verification here, and here is the synopsis of the whole investigative report!
So who is the villain now - maybe these people?

Long story short: it is complicated - that being a massive understatement!
If you really have the time to spare, please read this latest document by the FAO. It brims with detail and the more one reads, the more one gets a picture of the massive scope and inter-dependency (check out the graph on p. 101!) of global Tunas fisheries.
Here are the Conclusions.

Most of the RFMO conventions define MSY as the reference point for stock management. Under such definition, almost all the world’s tuna stocks are nearly fully exploited and some are overexploited. Some of the stocks which are not yet overexploited are being overfished (i.e. fishing mortality is higher than the level corresponding to MSY).
Therefore, it is a crucial time to establish proper management of the stocks and to thus decide the future of tuna resources.

The sustainable use of the stocks is crucial for the industry.
The most serious difficulty in management is the increasing fishing capacity compared to the available stocks. Therefore, in terms of proper management, global control of fishing capacity, not only that of industrial fisheries but also of small-scale coastal fisheries, is the key to success. There are many options for holding fishing mortality at a proper level, such as catch quotas, effort control, time-area closures, size limits and many others. However, all of these will be very difficult to agree upon in an international forum as long as there is an excess of fishing capacity.

Up until the end of the twentieth century, the tuna fishing industry was singly focused on how to increase efficiencies in fishing, processing and trading in order to increase profit.
Under current circumstances, consideration of ecosystems and the sustainability of both target and non-target species, as well as many other socio-economic factors (such as rising costs of fuel and labour and strict regulations on industrial waste discharges and emissions) are necessary. Sometimes these considerations result in an increase in cost and a decrease in efficiency for the industry.

Over the past several decades consumers have enjoyed a constant increase in fish supply and the ready availability of low-priced products, but now they must also assume the increased production costs associated with the factors listed above.
This scenario is analogous to that of a pie that has already expanded dramatically to its maximum, but for which the number of pie consumers (i.e. fishers) has also increased and is still increasing.

At present, the most important issue is how to manage the number of potential pie consumers and how to distribute the pie among them (e.g. using fishing capacity control measures and/or catch allocations).
This problem involves many complicated aspects including allocations between developed and/or distant water fishing nations and coastal and/or developing countries, among fishing gears, and between products (e.g. fresh fish versus canned fish).

As shown in this report, the industry has shown great changes at all stages in response to a variety of socio-economic factors, while management has remained focused on the biology of individual stocks.

When the tuna industry is as complicated as it is now (interaction among species, fishing gear types, areas, products and consumers, and individual country’s economic situations), then management needs also to be realistic and practical to succeed.
For example, if the maximum biological gain is to be the goal, all tuna should be taken at the size where biomass is maximized (see Section 4.2.7) assuming that the spawner-recruitment relationship is not affected by catching fish at this critical level. However, if we try to do this, the production cost would be far more than current cost (i.e. most of the fish would have to be taken by longline and the effort would thus need to be increased by up to tenfold over the current level). Even then, the resulting products may not meet the markets’ demands (e.g. too costly or too large for canning).

The current share of catches, mix of fisheries, status of stocks, and structure of industries and market, in short, the current landscape of the industry in all its complexity has been formed through the balance of all these bio- and socio-economic conditions and factors.
There is no doubt that a slight change in one segment can alter the balance substantially. For example, as seen recently, an increase in fuel prices had a major effect on fishing grounds, target species, relative profitability among fisheries and product types and, in the end, the retail price of various products.

Understanding the entire tuna industry is critically important for proper management.
Also, it is now time to solve the allocation problem (including all types of allocations such as allocation of TAC among countries, products and fisheries), and to approach it through established principles rather than leaving it up to ad hoc balancing of bio- and socio-economic factors.

Although this report has covered many aspects of the economic and social importance of tuna fisheries, it could not go into detail on the relative importance of the industry to the many different states involved in it. This kind of research would need not only to examine the states’ economic characteristics but also their sociological characteristics including culture and eating habits. This important aspect of the allocation issue remains a rich and essential field of research for the future.

See where I'm coming from?
This is not gonna be fixed tomorrow - but having said this, there is progress!
And to the doomsayers among you: do not forget this!

It is not too late - not for the Tuna and not for the Sharks!

PS I love sparring with Patric!
His visual representation illustrates perfectly the exact opposite of where I'm coming from, ie local as opposed to global extinctions. In fact, the Northern Bluefin is already extinct in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. But contrary to those enclosed bodies, the Atlantic is a mighty big piece of real estate. Tuna will become commercially extinct long, long before we will manage to wipe out the last stocks - especially if those subsidies get cut (and they will!) and the fight against IUU gets traction.
Again, the track record is unequivocable!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Heat is on!

2010 ranks as one of the warmest on record.
There were also a large number of extreme weather events (including some record cold spells), with more happening as we speak in 2011.
This, the UN says, is the result of Global Warming.

Not convinced?
Please read this and also, please look at the revealing comments section and the hilarious rebuttals by Danny Richter. As always, in the end, bullshit walks - that is, provided that there's a fact based discussion!
And finally, test your skepticism against this great website.

Then, please, go out there and become part of the solution.

It's about the Money!

Graph by Oceana - click on it and read the report!

From Patric's post about the Seal hunt.

The end users of trade are the most vulnerable and usually have the most to lose.
The folks on the front lines, the guys with the Hakapiks on ice flows in Canada make nice media targets but at the end of the day have the least to lose, because they are starting with little to begin with. Same goes for the shark finners in Mozambique, or the folks in Latin America coming in with tons of sharks fin on second and third rate fishing boats, selling their fins for a dollar a pound.

Change can come, and ultimately conservation groups can be successful, but the days of staged multi-million dollar media extravaganzas on television, small protests with semi naked protesters, and the endless cycle of online petitions has to end.

Trade agreements between nations trump everything and right now very few NGO's have a seat at the table when it comes to changing trade agreements.

Let's never forget that (over)fishing, the principal immediate cause for the depletion of marine resources is big business providing for countless jobs and food security in many, many countries and thus, any decision in the matter will be political and not driven by ethics.
But there's also the following flip side - the resources allocated to conservation.

From my controversial post about the Doha debacle.

I however see the real chance for the civil societies in quiet, polite and persistent lobbying "on the ground", flanked by developing, financing and implementing economical and social solutions for the fishermen, country-wide education campaigns and above all, money and hardware for effective enforcement and policing.

Let me share two recent anecdotes.
I will try and keep this vague as my aim is not to embarrass anybody but to illustrate where I'm coming from and that there are real problems in a real world that make the task so much more difficult.


Mangroves for Fiji has been embraced by several Government Ministries.
We recently met with a very high ranking government official who sees this as an ideal conduit for motivating coastal communities to restore their vital Mangrove belts instead of cutting them down for the fire wood trade. It was decided that his staff would take us to several of those communities where we could pitch our initiative. Staff were assigned, dates were discussed.
And then the boss said, could you please assist us with fuel for our transport, as we have no more budget allocation for re-fueling our vehicles.


As you may suspect, I'm working on expanding Shark protection throughout Fiji.
This week, I took the representative of an important NGO to visit a crucial player within the Ministry of Fisheries. He's a scientist in his own right, passionate, knowledgeable, one hundred percent incorruptible and totally committed to the preservation of Fiji's natural resources. The portfolio of his team includes, inter alia, the re-drafting of Fiji's fisheries laws, the farming and restoration of Giant Clams, the protection of Napoleon Wrasse, Bumphead Parrotfish, Turtles, Whales and now Sharks, the establishment of MPAs, running awareness campaigns in local communities, the drafting of position papers for the countless meetings of the countless local and international fisheries agencies, and many many more.
He is the go-to man and without his support, nothing will ever get done.

The meeting was excellent.
We agreed that we would continue the conversation via e-mail and meet at a later stage. The official gave us a gmail address and when I inquired, he explained that the government server was down and that anyway, he did not dispose of a desktop computer and could not access the internet from his office. Whenever he wanted to go online, he had to leave the office and download his mail in the next internet café.

That's where the rubber hits the road!
Again, this is not to embarrass anybody - it is merely to show the real situation on the ground. It is great to make a lot of noise and our collective efforts may indeed succeed in convincing the powers that be to take action, at least on paper. But those victories are merely the first step and to be perfectly clear, the job is not done if we stop there!
If the people tasked with implementing the decisions by the bigwigs are left without the necessary resources, those regulations will forever remain toothless and the killing will continue.

In the end, it's all about the money.
It's also about prioritizing our resources and directing them where they will have the biggest effect. And in view of the plethora of NGOs that are increasingly fragmented and thus underfunded, those resources need to be pooled.

Yes I know I'm repeating myself!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sharks - the Science!

I must confess, I'm a big fan of Pew.
Case in point: Sharks: The State of the Science from their Ocean Science Series that represents a very good starting point when talking about Shark Conservation.

Too busy to read it all?
Here's the Executive Summary.

The biological characteristics of sharks make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
They grow slowly, become sexually mature relatively late and produce few offspring. This vulnerability is reflected in the large number of shark species that are considered to be threatened or endangered.

A review of the current scientific literature on the number of sharks killed per year, the causes of this mortality, the status of shark species worldwide and the impact on ecosystems after large predators are removed provides the following key points:

* Millions of sharks are killed every year to supply the fin trade. In 2000, for example, 26 million to 73 million sharks were killed for fins, corresponding to 1.21 million to 2.29 million tons of shark.

* Commercial fisheries targeting sharks occur throughout the world. Sharks are sought primarily for their fins and meat but also for their cartilage, liver and skin.

* The highest numbers of reported shark landings are from: Indonesia; India; Taiwan, Province of China; Spain; and Mexico.

* Shark bycatch is frequently reported in pelagic longline fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish and can represent as much as 25 percent of the total catch. This bycatch is considered to be a major source of mortality for many shark species worldwide.

* Blue sharks make up an especially large fraction of shark bycatch in pelagic fisheries (47–92 percent).

* The value of shark fins has increased with economic growth in Asia (specifically China), and this increased value is a major factor in the commercial exploitation of sharks worldwide.

* Declines in population sizes of sharks, as much as 70–80 percent, have been reported globally. Some populations, such as the porbeagle sharks in the northwestern Atlantic and spiny dogfish in the northeastern Atlantic, have been reduced by up to 90 percent.

* The removal of large sharks can negatively impact whole ecosystems by, for example, allowing an increase in the abundance of their prey (fewer sharks eat less prey), or influencing prey species through non-lethal means, by causing behavioral changes to prey habitat use, activity level and diet.

* Live sharks have a significant value for marine ecotourism (for example, recreational diving, shark feeding and shark watching) that is typically more sustainable and often more valuable than their individual value to fisheries. Whale shark tourism, for example, is estimated to be worth $47.5 million worldwide.

My only question mark: the percentages of decline in population numbers.
This is once again one of those numbers, once again probably an exaggeration. With all due respect for the laudable intentions, I just don't believe that it is accurate - probably not even locally and certainly not on a global scale. For that, we would have to dispose of reliable baseline counts, and we would have to be able to reliably estimate the number of Sharks that live today.

Sound plausible to you?
And if not, are we again shooting ourselves in the foot by not being strictly fact based?
How about, again, Too Many?

The section about Shark Tourism fascinates me.
Here is the back-of-the-envelope calculation for our Sharks, in Fiji Dollars. One FJD is worth fifty US cents.
  • The yearly turnover of Beqa Adventure Divers is FJD 1,100,000 (of which FJD 45,000/year marine park levy that goes to the villages), all of which gets re-invested in country. Add to that the ancillary revenues in the tourism industry (airline tickets, transfers, accommodation, meals, souvenirs, excursions etc) and assume that the ratio is 1:2 (which is very conservative!) = FJD 2,200,000, gives a total of FJD 3,300,000.

  • We work with approx 100 Sharks, meaning that every Shark contributes FJD 33,000 to the Fiji economy - not once but per year!

  • Assuming that on average, a Shark will live for 20 years (less for Whitetips, more for Bulls), then the value of one Shark on our Shark dive is FJD 660,000.

  • Our competitors work with the same Sharks. Assuming that their cash flow is similar to ours, one can double the above numbers.
Pretty darn impressive huh!

PS thank you Patric!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Discards - Madness!

Another British celebrity chef, another campaign.

It is so bad, it just totally defies comprehension.
One has to pick one's fights and I'm plenty busy with trying to do something for Sharks - but if you care, check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fishfight campaign website.

Instead of more words, watch the following: obscene!

This is probably unbelievably intractable, as it will likely imply re-writing the European Common Fisheries Policy that regulates the different quotas or TACs - just check out the TACs for 2011 and you'll see what I mean!
But thanks to people like Hugh (and a whole host of NGOs, too), the issue is now firmly on the table - and Maria Damanaki is on the right side of the divide.
Again - and yes I am a fan!

As I said, when it comes to Fisheries policies, I'm basically an ignoramus.But the following graph may be a good starting point for identifying the problem and finding solutions - and not only in the case of discards!
Check it out - see what I mean?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gordon Ramsay on Shark Finning!

David is absolutely right: this is perfect.
The critics may say what they want: at least in my book, Gordon is now firmly established as a Good Man.
His Shark Bait is highly compelling, informative (and factually correct!) and moving, without ever sliding into the all-too-frequent larmoyant drama, and he as a person comes across as being totally genuine, committed and full of humanity and empathy.
Now this is a great way of translating one's celebrity status into meaningful action on the ground!
I am truly impressed - and lemme tellya, impressing me aint easy!

Kudos also to Channel 4 for championing sustainable seafood and for a great follow up with background information and links to important NGOs.

And lastly, David: best of luck buddy, you're a brave man - but we knew that already!
Sponsors: please give this a thought!

Here is the whole program, all 45 minutes of it.

PS Patric's take here - fully agree of course!

Monday, January 17, 2011

For our Friends in Fiji

Bula Vinaka.
Keep an eye on these maps, they are usually quite reliable - it sure looks like something may be coming our way!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bahamas - Traction!

This is Cristina who started the ball rolling with her petition.


We've been extremely busy and some important stories have not been told.
Like this one: it really looks like the efforts to protect the Bahamian Sharks are well underway!
I like the sound bites by Matt Rand of the Pew and I do especially like the push by the Bahamas National Trust under Eric Carey. This is totally effective outreach and I have no doubt that the effort will ultimately yield a positive result.
Now, if only they could go and educate the fishermen of Cat Island!

Enjoy the following videos, all courtesy of the ever busy The Dorsal Fin.
Great stuff !

And here is again Cristina, courtesy of Joe Romeiro of 333 Productions!

PS: Very smart recap by Patric here!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We've come a long Way indeed!

Very cool find by Patric!
This is how Sharks were being viewed in the old times - and I must confess, my personal image of Tiger Sharks has only changed rather recently, this principally owing to my personal acquaintance with Scarface and Jimmy's iconic dive at Tiger Beach, and his brilliant advocacy for those Sharks. And let's not forget his equally brilliant caveats!

Anyway - watch and be amazed!

Doug Perrine about eating Cownose Rays!

I've said it before, Doug Perrine is Royalty.
Not only is he one of the nicest guys around, not only is he one of the pre-eminent underwater photojournalists - he is also a staunch and at the same time, extremely well documented marine conservationist.

Case in point, his comment to this article in NGM.
Surprise surprise, when he posted it, he got the following reply Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author - and it very much appears like the author may still be pondering. I wonder why? :)
Doug is referencing this seminal paper (longer synopsis here), probably the first such study that documented how removing Sharks could trigger trophic cascades (another example here).

As a caveat, it must be said that this does NOT apply to all Sharks!
It only applies to determined species in determined habitats where they act as apex predators and keystone species - other, generally smaller species of Sharks like e.g. Spiny Dogfish are considered mesopredators and may in fact profit from the removal of apex predators!

But I'm digressing as always.
Here is Doug's comment, unabridged - let's see if Jeremy Berlin will eventually have the guts to approve its posting on NGM. Anybody taking bets?
Bravo Doug!

Jeremy Berlin’s short and intriguing article in the January issue of NGM, “Eat a Ray, Save the Bay,” left me hungry for more information.

What are these “shellfish” that the rays are “gobbling?”
Are they, by any chance commercially important species of mollusks and crustaceans that have been in severe decline for years due to over-harvesting and habitat destruction by humans?
Any chance that humans have also been “gobbling” these species?

And what about the grass beds that the rays are “roiling?”
Would these, by any chance, be the same grassbeds that have been in decline since humans first settled around Chesapeake Bay, as a result of pollution, poor watershed management, mechanical destruction by dredging (for some of those unnamed “shellfish”) and boat propellers, etc.?

Why is it that “predators like coastal sharks have declined?”
Does it have anything to do with the rapacious, cruel, and obscenely wasteful fishery for shark fins to supply a nutrition-free status-enhancing soup ingredient for Chinese celebrations?

Have the unidentified “area officials” considered the alternative of rebuilding healthy populations of predators in order to ensure a resilient and balanced ecosystem?
When the writer refers to “the observed spike in cownoses, though untallied,” may I presume that the meaning is that there are no reliable population estimates for this species either before or after the sharks and shellfish were both overfished, and certainly not before the entire ecology of the Bay was drastically altered at human hands?

Are the “area officials” aware of the life history characteristics of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), such as extremely low fecundity, slow growth, and delayed maturity, which make them notoriously poor candidates for a commercial fishery?
Can they name a single truly sustainable fishery for any species of elasmobranch? May I suggest an alternative to the moniker “Chesapeake ray?”
How about “scapegoat ray?”

One final question: when did National Geographic Magazine start promoting resource exploitation schemes clearly developed by commercial fishermen and their allies in local government without consulting scientists with expertise in the field?

In China, bamboo forests have been destroyed for agriculture and development and pandas are gobbling the remaining bamboo.
Can we expect to see panda recipes in National Geographic soon?

As I said: Royalty!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Playa del Carmen - too late already?

Honestly: I fear it is!

From a witness report.
The sharks are being fished out right now (see attached photos).
There was a great agreement with the local fishermen in Playa del Carmen and they had stopped shark fishing completely. At the beginning of December however, a fisherman
from a neighbouring town captured and killed 21 bull sharks, following which the Playa fishers decided that if he could do it, so could they.
Twenty nine 2 m+ bulls have been killed in the last month or so, and no-one is seeing any live sharks at the dive sites.
I have just heard that there have been a couple of decomposing finned bull shark carcasses found on the reef in the last week - great advert for Playa!

How incredibly sad!
With that in mind, how long will it take until the site will recover - if all that fishing stops TODAY? Keep in mind that if Steven Spencer's account is in any way accurate, and I think it is, then those Bulls may already be the quasi totality of the animals visiting Playa del Carmen during the Bull Shark Season!

Are they part of a larger population from where new individuals may be recruited?
Maybe - but at risk of stating the obvious here: Sharks are not Teleosts and have no planktonic larval stages that may be carried in by the currents and decide to settle. Instead, any Bull Shark repopulating Playa del Carmen will have to leave its current home range and swim there. The motivation for doing so may derive from a past "good experience" and if so, the Sharks with that individual memory may now be dead; or, juveniles may be following adults and if so, those adults may now have been killed; more likely, Playa may be re-discovered by some roaming Sharks much like Fiji is being slowly re-discovered by the Humpback Whales. Yes those links are about Tigers - but Bulls occupy a similar trophic niche and certainly roam as well, albeit probably within smaller ranges.
All very possible - but this mechanism is bound to take a very long time indeed, likely way too long for any specialized Shark viewing tourism to survive commercially. And as the Shark tourism revenues will dwindle, the revenues from Shark fishing will look that much more attractive.
Yes, it’s a vicious circle!

But whatever the final outcome - there are lessons to be learned here!
And before anybody should feel that I may be attacking him personally and starts calling me names: this is not against anybody.
This is just, once again, a reminder that we all need to be careful !

Forget the romantic image of The Old Man and the Sea.
Granted, the artisanal fishermen in Playa may still fit that stereotype - but in general terms, the image could not be more misleading! Commercial fishing is big business and the fishermen are motivated, smart and dispose of the exact same, if not more resources than we do! Do you really think that they are not looking at tracks like these and not already finding ways to exploit them? Do you think that they're not already ogling the much-publicized mass spawning of the Snappers and scouring the scientific papers for the location of other Fish aggregations? Why do you think that I've erased the co-ordinates of the GW Café from my post?
Or, think Guadalupe: what do you think will happen to those GWs if the operators don't get their act together and the Mexicans close the site?

And lest you start mumbling that this is merely some "conspiracy" to promote Fiji against Mexico or the like: same-same here in Fiji!
This is what has happened last year.

Yes this is one of our Bulls and these are some local Polynesian fishermen.
We were only alerted after the fact and that Shark ended up being killed. But it had been caught within our protected Shark Corridor and we were thus able to mobilize our Reef Wardens and the police. Suffice to say that I'm absolutely certain that those guys will never, ever kill one of our Sharks again! (:

That is, if we don't stuff it up!
The Fiji Shark Project is geared towards long term sustainability. In theory, it has all the ingredients to run forever, to the benefit of the Sharks and of all its stakeholders: the villagers, the Country, our staff and even the local fishermen who profit from the spillover effects of the marine park and of course, the Sharks!
But take a wild guess at what would happen if we had the alas inevitable accident (there, I've said it!) on the Shark Dive and could not document that we had done everything humanly possible to prevent it!
Hence the ever tighter security protocols and hence my constant reminder that in our industry, safety must be our primary concern - despite of the incessant clamoring by some of our customers for more more more!

If the Playa disaster can have a meaning, it is this.
We can discount it as the inevitable result of a commercial Shark diving project that appears to have been poorly planned and poorly executed, and revert to business as usual; or, we may take pause for some reflection.
Are our animals sufficiently protected?
Are our current protocols the best we can imagine?
And if not: what can we do to improve on that, RIGHT NOW?

And lastly, if you plan to set up a new operation.
Start quietly, by furthering research and ensuring that the site is adequately protected and that you are empowered to enforce that protection - before publicizing the operation! And when it comes to choosing your protocols: this is an excellent start!

To those trying to fix the situation in Playa: wishing you the very best of success!
Suggestion: a stay of execution - enact a temporary chumming stop pending an agreement with the fishermen. Right now, the chumming is aggregating the remaining Sharks and only helping the fishermen find and kill them.
Please drop us a line if there's anything we can contribute.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wallpaper: getting there!

Is this wallpaper Bull Sharks?

Hell, no - but getting there!
As anticipated, Sasha has started to post the pics from his last trip to Fiji and in his own words, this is rather initial take on this challenge - meaning that he has indeed picked up the gauntlet!
Can't wait for the continuation!

And what about the chewing on those strobes?
The shark scientists and shark veterans DO know: my dear friend, u gotta either change strobes, or mask the electric signature of those YS-250s - or very much get the hell outta there! This will certainly improve as after the first frenzy at the beginning of the season, the Sharks are usually less ravenous and do calm down substantially - but if you want to continue operating in the front lines, those strobes are an unnecessary additional safety risk that needs to be addressed. Maybe this is fate telling you that it's time to upgrade?
Mind you, just a hint! :)

But other than that...
Not bad at all - for the beginning!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Mangroves for Fiji - Cooperation!

Mangroves for Fiji continues to make inroads.

We continue to sign up planters and projects and thanks to the help of the valiant people of the Department of Forestry, we have started to branch out from the main Island of Viti Levu and are now talking to communities all across the country. Very soon, several new sites will be completed allowing us to add the carbon credits of more than 10 additional hectares, or 100,000 Mangrove trees to our tally.

Another one of our strategic partners is the IUCN.
Their Oceania Chapter is managing MESCAL, the Mangrove Eco-Systems for Climate Change Adaptation and Livelihoods, and the MFF team has been invited to take on a role as observers.

A while ago, we had the pleasure of showcasing our pilot project to the MESCAL delegates and we are quite confident that the visit has triggered some more lateral thinking.
In fact, we are already talking to people in other Pacific countries who who have shown interest in replicating the project there: meaning that 2011 could well see the inception of Mangroves for Oceania - how cool would that be, so fingers crossed!

Anyway, the event has resulted in this little post on the IUCN website, marking Arthur's first appearance in the conservation media - and yes, he's mighty proud!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Neil - fabulous Stuff!

Quick-quick, just received.
Once again, I am impressed!



Educational Shark Research Goes Virtual

Miami, FL – January 4, 2011 –

Experiencing the excitement and challenges of shark research is now only a click away, thanks to the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami (RJD).
Interaction with the vibrant, multi-media interface provides students and marine enthusiasts with a hands-on shark conservation education from the comfort of their home or classroom.

Set atop a sea of turquoise waters and teeming tropical reefs, five segments featuring video, photo, and text create a sequential workflow to learn and experience what goes into the scientific research to protect shark populations. Although much of the content is catered toward a high-school level and above, the interactivity with photo and video can reach children as young as elementary school.

Nearly six months in the making, the Virtual Expedition is the newest addition to an ever expanding volume of resources in the online RJD “classroom.”
Many schools around the country already piously follow the GoogleEarth tracks of RJD’s satellite tagged Bull, Tiger and Hammerhead sharks. An interdisciplinary high-school curriculum available for download also offers nearly an entire semester of Marine Conservation education. The RJD website is fast becoming the premiere hub for marine conservation education in the world.

To collect your boarding pass for this action-packed adventure, visit

The R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program is a joint program of the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and the Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami.
The Rosenstiel School offers one of the largest, most comprehensive marine and atmospheric programs in the nation. Robust academics and in-depth scientific investigation are hallmarks of the School’s programs.
The Abess Center creates innovative interdisciplinary initiatives that bridge the gap between hard science and environmental policy.

Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor,
Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) & Leonard & Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy

Director, RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program


Awesome pic - click on it!
May we deduce that Sam must have been pretty close to that Shark?
We may indeed! :)

Yes the Bulls are running fast and furious!
We're currently hosting some of the usual suspects who have flocked in to witness the spectacle, and the inevitable socializing schedule has been keeping me away from the blogosphere - so here's a brief re-cap before I mosey over to the next event.

Sasha has come and gone (and yes, Aleksey and Olga did make it out of Moscow in time!) and I very much look forward to a massive dose of Russian heroism once he gets home! Suffice to say that some of his dives have been, for lack of a better word: quite spicy, and that he could write whole dissertations about the electric signature of a particular brand of underwater strobes!
Meaning that I also expect him to post a whole new crop of terrific sharky pics!

Ozzie Sam is still here - and about to get rained in as always! :)
But not to worry: as witnessed above, he's already gotten the shot! Plus, the man lives just a stone's throw away and I have no doubt that he shall be back for more (Sharks and rain!) very very soon indeed!

Which cannot be said of Juerg!
Viewed from Fiji, Switzerland is about as antipodean as it gets and ever since becoming a pater familias (yes, Marlen may beg to differ!), his visits have alas become a rare treat. This is to be savored, the more as like always, he has come bearing gifts - and not in the Greek way!
The goodies: heaps of inegschmuggleti Mettwuerscht vom Bell!

But I'm digressing.
As always, we got plans - and as always, ah aint telling you quite yet!
Suffice to say that we're about to start something new and that Juerg is profiting from the unequaled (!) Fijian tranquility to put the final touches on a whole array of new papers - so as always, keep watching this space!

Time to go - talk soon!

Saturday, January 01, 2011



From the beaches of Africa, to the ports of the Middle East , a shark fin odyssey arrives back at Ground Zero... Hong Kong.

'Man & Shark' is book, and short film of the same name, which explores the barbaric practice of shark-finning in developing nations, so that consumers in Hong Kong and China can eat shark fin soup at their weddings, company banquets and other celebrations.

The multimedia project aims to show why sharks, as the ocean's apex predators, are necessary to keep the marine ecosystem in balance. 'Man & Shark' also bears witness to the ignorance of shopkeepers selling shark fin in Hong Kong.
It also explores why Chinese people eat shark fin soup in the first place, and the dangers to health from mercury poisoning.

'Man & Shark' was conceived in Mozambique, Yemen, and Hong Kong, and includes many underwater images of sharks from all over the world.

I say - stunning!
Yes Alex came through on his promise and I'm holding the book in my hands: fantastic pictures, great layout, compelling message. Paul and Alex have gone to great lengths in order to document and publicize the decline of a whole group of animals. Should everything fail, this book will stand forever as a first of its kind and historical document.
Great job, to the point that we shall post a link on our home page, like we've done for the books by Timbo and the epic book by Jimmy.

The question being, will this make a difference?
I just don't know. Apparently, and I tend to agree with this view, the most effective strategy for influencing public opinion in favor of conservation is to show beauty, not horror, very much in line with what Jimmy is trying to achieve. I'm also very much on record with my personal views about the non-effectiveness of trying to re-educate the consumer in the case of a supply limited fisheries like that for Sharks.
But having said this, I recently spent some time with some brilliantly intelligent people who promote that course of action and have become somewhat less absolutist in the process. Mind you: not totally convinced by any stretch of the imagination - just more hopeful!
Yes, it's complicated as always!

So here's to that hope, and to a fantastic job by two passionate people!