Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preview of Shark Stanley Preview

I'm sure you remember Shark Stanley from 2013 when he swam to 135 countries to gather support for shark protections at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.  With your help we protected hammerhead, porbeagle, and oceanic whitetip sharks, as well as manta rays.
Now Shark Stanley and his friends are turning their attention to creating shark sanctuaries across the globe.  Will you help us?  We will have a global launch in the coming months, but have an online preview scheduled for World Wildlife Day on March 3.  On that day, come back to this blog by visiting www.SharkStanley.com to find out how you can get a free digital copy of the new book, as well as a sneak peek at some of our new materials before the global launch.

Happy ocean scene!

Are you excited?  In the coming days we'll have information on how you can become an official Shark Stanley Friend.  We're going to need your help for our global launch in April.

In the meantime you can follow Shark Stanley on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Keep an eye on our social networks, because we might just post some more sneak peeks!

Sad Ocean scene....

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Social Media Savvy Shark Stanley Swims to Turks & Caicos

Guest Blog
by Tina Randall & Jackie Walker

Do you have children in the school system here in the wonderful Turks and Caicos Islands? If so, they might have shown you a self-colored picture of a cartoon shark named Stanley and explained to you why healthy coral reefs need sharks. Or maybe you are visiting the TCI and would like to know more about the creatures that live beneath these turquoise waters and what you can do to help protect them. Either way, you should get acquainted with Shark Stanley and his new friends on the island and learn why sharks are important.

Who exactly is Shark Stanley? Stanley is the face of the global shark awareness campaign dedicated to creating shark sanctuaries and supporting the proper management of sharks and rays. Shark Stanley is the brainchild of former Yale grad student Leah Meth and shark conservationist Angelo Villagomez from The Pew Charitable Trusts. They produced a book The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends in which several shark characters team up with kids to protect sharks. He has more than a dozen friends, including a lemon shark from TCI! An updated version of the book is being released in March 2015.

One of the big lessons Shark Stanley teachers is that healthy reefs need sharks. What does a shark have to do with coral reefs? Everything! Jackie Walker at Amanyara’s Nature Discovery Center along with Amy Avenant at DEMA and other individuals are working with Stanley to increase public awareness on why sharks are important to the ocean and to The TCI. Students at Osetta Jolly Primary School, Provo Primary School, British West Indies Collegiate, and TCI Middle School have listened to Stanley's book and learned about sharks in TCI's waters. The student's perception of sharks went from a fearful, “sharks are scary, they eat humans," to a more appreciative, "sharks eat fish for balance, they save the ocean." That is quite a change! The lessons also struck a chord with a teacher at Provo Primary School who said afterwards, "as someone who is slowly getting over a fear of the ocean and sharks in particular, this is something I really want to get involved with."

Shark Stanley has also been swimming about the island to various events and locations taking ‘selfies’ in the community. He has been to Long Bay, Blue Hills, and even trick-or-treating! He handed out wristbands and read his book to excited children with Santa. It is not every day that you get the opportunity to hug a happy hammerhead and tweet @tcisharks or instagram #tcisharks. Shark Stanley is trying to change the global perception of sharks and to teach people to appreciate what sharks do in an ocean that humans so heavily depend on.

Stanley also teaches us about the top predator’s key role in the marine ecosystem. Sharks have been around for 450 million years and the ocean needs them. Healthy and biologically diverse shark populations are important to maintain the balance of marine life, including commercially important species that end up on our dinner plates. Ecosystems function as a check and balance system; things can get out of balance if you take out an important piece of the puzzle. Sharks keep fish populations in check and with their varied diet help to maintain the biodiversity coral reefs support. Algae would smother and kill the coral reef if sharks didn’t control the food chain; specifically both the carnivorous and herbivorous fish below them. No tourist wants to snorkel or dive on a reef overcome with algae, or one that is no longer alive.

Talking with marine biologists and experts in the field that have recently visited TCI, we have learned that many places around the world are experiencing a decline in shark populations, including here in the TCI. We still see sharks on almost every dive here, but their populations are a far cry from what they used to be. Scientists estimate that over 100 million sharks are killed every year in commercial fisheries. Nearly 30 percent of known shark species fully assessed by scientists are threatened with extinction and another 26 percent close to becoming threatened in the near future. The global shark population decline is immense; before we know it we will no longer get to experience these magnificent and humbling animals in our oceans and will be left with the consequences of an unbalanced marine ecosystem.

The TCI has the opportunity to be a part of the global movement to save sharks. To date, nine countries and overseas territories have created shark sanctuaries, ending the commercial fishing of sharks in their waters. Will you join us? You can show your support by getting involved with Shark Stanley and posting your ‘selfie’ to social networks with the hashtag #SharkStanley and #TCIsharks.

Another way to get involved in shark conservation in TCI is to come get inspired by international shark conservationist Rob Stewart when he comes to Providenciales March 26-March 28, 2015 for a Shark Weekend. Rob is an award winning wildlife photographer and director of the documentary Sharkwater (2007). This film is a visually stunning, eye-opening film that takes you on a journey to the most shark rich waters and exposes the exploitation and corruption surrounding the marine reserves they belong to. The film has won 31 international awards and is a powerful piece that leads us into the discussion of shark conservation for the future of the oceans.

Rob will visit select local schools to engage students and increase awareness about sharks. He will partake in a community conservation luncheon, an exclusive documentary screening at Amanyara and go scuba diving with local reef club student members to educate on community conservation and involvement. Don’t miss Rob’s special community event on Saturday March 28th, 2015. This special conservation presentation and screening of the documentary Sharkwater will be open to the public, taking place at Brayton Hall at 7:00pm. Tickets are available in advance or at the door.

For more information on this Shark Weekend please contact jwalker@amanresorts.com. Shark weekend is supported by DEMA, Amanyara Resport, BWIC, Edward Gartland Youth Centre, and Big Blue Unlimited. You can get involved! To learn more about Shark Stanley and his cause you can visit SharkStanley.com or visit the Facebook page Caribbean Shark Defenders, Tweet @tcisharks, Instagram #tcisharks, or write a support letter about why you love sharks and why they need our help and send it to tina@pacificu.edu. Keep an eye out for Shark Stanley at schools and events and take the time to learn about why you should care about sharks, why they are important for everyone and how you can get involved in their conservation.

Tina Randall lives in the Turks & Caicos Islands and has a BSc. Environmental Biology. She is TCI's Shark Stanley Ambassador. You can follow her adventures saving sharks in the Caribbean on Twitter.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bake and shark a threat to turtle conservation

Guest Post
by Marc De Verteuil

Trinidad & Tobago is famous for being at the forefront of sea turtle protection and for the delicious bake and shark. But what if eating shark puts turtles at risk? Healthy reefs need sharks to create ecosystem balance. Even turtle populations can cause problems when they do not have predators to keep them in check. T&T banned the hunting of marine turtles in 2011 but what effect can this have on a wider marine ecosystem in which sharks are driven to extinction?

This question struck a cord with me after a dive at Macqueripe Bay, in the proposed Tucker Valley National Park, Chaguaramas. Within a relatively small area I saw five turtles—two critically endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) and three endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). Only one hawksbill was an adult. It a kept a weary distance, a result of pre-ban turtle hunting by spear fishermen.

The other four observed turtles had probably never experienced life before the hunting ban. None of them had ever faced the business end of a spear so fearless of humans they showed no avoidance behaviour. It seems that there is strong population growth. Will there be a time that there will too many turtles for the bay to support and will the absence of sharks then become a problem?

Sea turtle conservation has been successful throughout much of the Atlantic area. Simple conservation efforts like protecting turtles and turtle nesting beaches, the banning of gill nets and the introduction of Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) has resulted in a growth rate of between 4-16 per cent for the green sea turtle population.

Green sea turtles are mostly herbivorous. Seagrass beds are like the meadows of the ocean. Grazing sea turtles eat large amounts of seagrass. Historically they played an important role in maintaining healthy seagrass beds by pruning the seagrass canopy and preventing the build-up of dead matter.

Green sea turtles were nearly hunted to extinction by humans and a knock on effect of their plummeting numbers may have been the mass die-off of seagrasses in the 20th century. Seagrass meadows offer important ecosystem services like habitat for many fish species and carbon sequestration. Sea turtle numbers have bounced back in Bermuda.

It is a conservation success but one that throws up a new challenge as sea turtles are overgrazing the seagrass beds. Some seagrass beds have been completely destroyed. The problem is that sea turtles are being reintroduced to an ecosystem that is completely altered by humans. Humans aside, sharks are the main turtle predators.

But overfishing has decimated their numbers and up to 25 per cent of shark species are in danger of extinction by the year 2050. Tiger sharks used to keep sea turtle numbers in balance, but they are now near threatened themselves. Pew Charitable Trust, based in Washington DC, is at the forefront of worldwide shark conservation and a major driver behind the establishment of shark sanctuaries.

Pew’s Angelo Villagomez explained to me that: “There was a study recently by Dr Mike Heithaus showing sharks regulate the behaviour of turtles, which in turn benefits the ecosystem. If there are no sharks, the turtles can overgraze seagrass beds, which can be important breeding and pupping grounds for fish, as well as carbon sinks.” Tiger sharks do more than just limit turtle numbers. They also alter their behaviour by influencing where turtles graze.

In the absence of sharks turtles will choose to graze the tastiest, most nutritious sea grass beds, which become overgrazed and then destroyed. When tiger sharks are in the area turtles behaviour is influenced by fear. They spend less time in the most desirable seagrass areas and do not overgraze. In order to protect sea turtles we must protect sea turtle habitat. Protecting sea turtle habitat means protecting the sharks that are turtles’ main predator.

Predators do not only affect numbers and health of prey, they also influence habitat, like seagrass beds. This is in no way a call to cull sea turtle numbers. Marine turtles are still faced with the threat of extinction. Sea turtle recovery will take many decades or longer. If the population is to recover to healthy levels we need to protect the different parts of the ecosystem with which sea turtles interact.

T&T is the number six exporter of shark fin to Hong Kong. This makes T&T a global player in the demise of sharks. This trade must be halted. Bake and shark is a national food, a culinary delight for which locals and visitors travel to Maracas beach. It is a tradition, but traditions must change when they become unsustainable. Please enjoy a sustainable alternative like bake and flying fish or bake and cheese. T&T tradition is eating delicious food, not eating endangered species.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"(Shark) sanctuaries...are effective"

Workshop attendees hailed from several countries including Australia, Colombia, Fiji, France, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Samoa.
Late last year a grouping of shark enthusiasts working in various fields of tourism, conservation, government, and science met to discuss the status of shark conservation.  In their meetings they agreed that overfishing is driving the decline of shark populations.  In fact, Worm et al 2013 showed us that we are fishing them twice as fast as they can reproduce.

It looks like the only policy recommendation they could come to agreement on is that shark sanctuaries are an effective tool, but that recommendation came with a lot of caveats.  The full report is online.  Here's is what they had to say about sanctuaries:
Sanctuaries: Effective tools, as long as…
Among the major topics at the workshop, specialists gave close consideration to the current process based on setting up large zones where sharks are protected. French Polynesia banned shark fishing in 2006 (except for the mako fishery, which was only banned in 2012) inside its exclusive economic zone. Palau and New Caledonia have recently set up the same type of shark protection zone. But above and beyond these decisions, which are widely covered by the media, how effective are they in protecting sharks? This question is all the more relevant when we consider that tuna fishing continues to take place within those zones, with its bycatch that includes sharks. Even though bycatch sharks may not be kept onboard, catch-related mortality rates are high. Workshop participants agreed that although sanctuaries are not a miracle solution, they are effective, particularly if they include an efficient fisheries control system and shark population monitoring.
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