Ethical Travel: Shark Crisis

Since learning to Scuba Dive two years ago on the beautiful island of Roatan, we’ve educated ourselves on the sea and become passionate about our world’s oceans. There’s an estimated 500 – 870 million people that directly depend on the oceans to survive and over 1billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

The Ocean Is Facing Serious Challenges

Climate change, pollution and over fishing are having major effects on the oceans, causing a steep decline in the world’s shark populations. This decline is not only a threat to the sharks, but also to humanity, as their value to the worlds eco-system cannot be underestimated. Movies like Jaws have done little to endear us to the sharks plight. Reminiscent of the film the Australian government is currently debating deploying baited lines to catch and kill any shark over 3m off the coast of Perth, in what protesters are describing as a ‘Shark Cull’.

Colin Barnett Shark Crisis(Picture: Australian Western Premier Colin Barnett with a shark hook)

Move 6000 km north of Australia to China, and the biggest threat to the sharks 450 million year existence is well underway. ‘Shark Fin’ soup is a Chinese delicacy which originated during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644AD). It’s mainly consumed at special occasions, but as income levels in China have grown, so has demand for the delicacy creating a shark crisis. The most prized type of shark fin are that of the endangered whale shark and they can fetch as much as $20,000! Currently, it’s estimated that 100 million sharks are being caught and killed each year, but with so much illegal fishing occurring this figure may be upward of 250 million. As much as 7.9% of their entire population are caught and killed each year, a figure that’s unsustainable and has seen 100 of the 450 shark species enter the endangered list. Fishermen cut the fins off live sharks before kicking them back into the water to suffocate, which enables them to avoid going over fishing quotas; an entirely inhumane process I’m sure you’ll agree?

De-finned shark (Picture: De-finned Hammerhead kicked back into the ocean)

The Effects

How does this affect us? Well if you were to remove the oceans top predator, the king of the underwater jungle, then the effects could be catastrophic. As any movie involving time travel will tell you (‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ & ‘Back To The Future’ to name a few…) killing an animal in history, even a fly, can dramatically change the future. Killing sharks, will allow their prey to experience a population boom such as the Parrot fish that consumes coral. The reef is already having a tough time adapting to the increase in acidity from all our pollution (70% of CO2 emissions are absorbed by the seas) and although spanning just 1% of the oceans floor it supports around 25% of the entire fish population. The coral also supports coastal businesses that depend on the income and is used as treatments for many prevalent diseases. It’s an asset to our planet and one we can not live without!

Other shark prey include the jellyfish. There are very few predators able to deal with the jellyfish’s sting, but the shark is well equipped to help keep their growing numbers down. With many possible outcomes, it would be easy for ‘doomsdayers’ to predict a dystopia, scarce of fish with jellyfish ruling the bleak acidic oceans, but there is some hope…

The Reaction

Some areas of the world are waking up to this issue and lending their support to the sharks. Last week 10,000 protesters rallied in Perth, objecting the move to lay baited hooks off the west coast of Australia, and it seems as though their voices are being heard. Dr. Burden, whose son had been involved in a fatal shark attack in Perth during 2011 commented on the proposed shark cull saying “You can’t just say ‘we’re going to kill things because they interfere with my lifestyle”.

Over in New Zealand a law has been passed making shark finning completely illegal in NZ waters by 2016. 45,000 submissions were received from Kiwis, many of whom were disgusted by the lack of rules around de-finning sharks.

On June 26th 2013 the EU council finally closed all loopholes in the laws on shark finning in the EU, hopefully ending the practice in Europe.

One of our favorite documentaries and a great piece of investigative journalism by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart,  takes an in depth look at the illegal shark finning trade and the lengths fishermen will go to catch this valuable prize. I’d highly recommend you download and watch this brilliant piece of work:

What Can You Do?

Over 70% of the Earth’s surface is water so it’s essential to know as much as possible about our oceans.

Be aware about ethical travel:

  • Don’t eat shark fin soup
  • Check the seafood you eat is sustainable for the area – Cod in the UK is depleted but Hake and Pollock are great cheaper alternatives
  • Check seafood hasn’t been illegally caught – many places around the world stop catching lobster at a certain time of year so they’re able to breed, check with locals to see if they’re in season before you buy
  • Make sure Tuna has been line caught – this significantly decreases the volume of sharks and other marine life caught as bycatch in the huge tuna nets
  • Don’t eat turtle meat – they’re endangered and also eat jellyfish, they’re instrumental in controlling the jellyfish population
  • Don’t touch the coral reef whilst diving – it damages the protective coating, which can result in killing large patches of coral reef
  • Don’t use any cruise ship companies that have helped destroy huge sections of coral reef to create a route into port. Any cruise ship landing on the island of Roatan has been privy to destroying a large section of the islands beautiful coral reef. This includes Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Carnival, Costa, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Holland America Line & Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Don’t support these unethical companies!
  • If you’re diving and you see rubbish, put it in your wet-suit to take ashore – turtles eat carrier bags thinking they’re jellyfish, and whales swallow rubbish instead of plankton!

Please let us know if you’re involved in any projects to help the marine life, coral and oceans, or if you have anything to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re inspired to find out more, these two websites have some great content and are doing their best to help our oceans:

http://www.projectaware.org/

http://www.coral.org/

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3 Responses to Ethical Travel: Shark Crisis

  1. Jaspa 18 January, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    Really interesting blog, Gaz. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel and short-sighted people can sometimes be.

    • Gaz 20 January, 2014 at 4:03 am #

      Yeah, it’s a difficult one to tackle. So much goes on that we’re unaware of and the governments do little to prevent it for fear of upsetting the wealthiest. There’s an amazing documentary called Planet Ocean, it’s got some unreal camera shots and amazing cinematography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vYMUV2_das

      • Jaspa 21 January, 2014 at 1:09 am #

        Sadly, you’re right, Gaz. The first Jaspa’s Journey book takes place in the Serengeti, against the backdrop of one of the wonders of the natural world, the annual wildebeest migration. The Tanzanian government plan to put a road across the national park, which could effectively bring the migration to an end (http://jaspasjourney.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/migration%E2%80%99s-end/). So far, international outcries have made them repeatedly back off from their plan, but they keep returning to it, citing economic need (which all outside authorities agree would be better served by routing the highway around the park and not through it). I’m afraid that one day the Tanzanian government will stop backing down, and the migration in the book will become a thing of history. It’s very sad.

        On a lighter note, thanks for the youtube link. I’m going to try and watch it at the weekend.

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