Wednesday, April 27, 2016

President Obama: Protect Sharks by Expanding Papahanaumokuakea

I am a surfer, photographer, and shark attack survivor from the island of Kaua'i. I am passionate about marine conservation, particularly what's going on with shark conservation and the rapid decline of shark stocks worldwide. I also feel a calling to help others overcome adversity, and enjoy being an outreach to other amputees and the adaptive/disabled community.

It's insane the amount of sharks needlessly killed, about 100 million a year. It is a completely unsustainable rate considering extinction is forever. As an apex predator, they play a invaluable role in our marine ecosystem. We need our oceans to be living and functioning, or our lives, regardless of on land or water, will become greatly affected over time.

As a fellow "island boy," President Barack Obama knows the importance of Aloha 'Aina (love of the land) and he has done a lot for sharks since he took office. He signed the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 and has created huge marine protected areas in the Central Pacific that protect all species. The president has only a few more months left in office and there's a few more things he can do to protect threatened shark species here in Hawaii. Please sign this petition to ask President Obama to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument as proposed by prominent members of the Native Hawaiian community.

Research also shows that habitats within the existing monument support abundant Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis), tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), and grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhinchos). These species, and others, have been shown to travel to the area of the proposed monument expansion. For example, a combination of fishing data and satellite and acoustic telemetry revealed tiger sharks swim thousands of kilometers along the Hawaiian chain and out into the open ocean, with individuals found more than 600 kilometers offshore.

By increasing the size of Papahanaumokuakea, these resident species, and other highly migratory sharks that frequent these waters can be protected. The value of large protected areas to sharks has been demonstrated, and expanded protection in this area will be of benefit to multiple threatened shark species.

Please join me in encouraging President Obama to go big and expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument according to the proposal put forward by the Native Hawaiian community! #GoBigObama #ExpandPMNM

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sustainable Shark Dive Tourism Website Now Live: Best Practices and Trip Reviews

That's Angelo enjoying a shark dive
Sustainable Shark Diving (, a new website that provides tools and “Trip Advisor-like reviews of shark dive tourism operations around the world is now live. The website, previewed at the 2015 DEMA Show in Florida to overwhelming interest and support, has opened and now offers shark divers an opportunity to learn about best practices while helping to promote more sustainable environmental and safety within the industry.

The popularity and growth of shark dive tourism over the past decade is undeniable. Divers increasingly want to see sharks and are willing to pay well to have close encounters with these charismatic species. For a critically threatened group such as sharks, this is good news. “Over 100 million sharks die each year due to interactions with fisheries, “ reports Rick MacPherson, marine biologist, conservationist, and founder of the new online tool Sustainable Shark Diving “I believe a living shark showcased for tourism over its lifetime is better than a dead shark used once for its fins and meat,” says MacPherson. “I created as a free, open access portal for tourists and dive operators to help underscore the value of healthy shark populations to tourism as well as highlight best practices and lessons learned from shark dive operations around the world.” Dr Austin Gallagher, Postdoctoral Researcher at Carleton University and principal author of a ground-breaking 2015 global study of the shark diving industry, agrees, "The value of shark diving tourism to local economies and cultures has emerged as one of the leading arguments for the conservation of sharks around the world."

The shark dive tourism industry has already taken note of the value of this new online tool. Jorge Loria, owner of Phantom Divers, a bull shark diving operation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, believes this tool will help create a higher standard for the growing shark diving industry, “Diving with a sustainable business that is safe and educational results in a benefit to both divers and sharks because the more we know about sharks the better we can protect them.” Mike Neumann, owner of Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji agrees: “This will be a game changer and a huge step towards propelling the shark diving industry towards a more long term sustainable model.”

Sustainable Shark Diving fills an industry need by providing a free, one-stop source for best safety and environmental practices and guidelines that have been established around the world for the viewing of sharks (and their flat cousins the rays). “Sustainable Shark Diving offers visitors a compilation of shark diving best practices and guidelines,” explains MacPherson. “You can search by shark species or by region. Whether you want to dive with white sharks, whale sharks, oceanic whitetip, bull, nurse, or any species, you will find the most currently accepted sustainability guidelines for that type of experience.”

Importantly, Sustainable Shark Diving features a Trip Advisor-like review section that allows divers to rate their experience with any shark dive operation against a set of sustainability criteria that includes safety, environmental performance, staff interactions, and overall educational/conservation value. "This tool has enormous potential to begin pushing the entire global industry closer to sustainability and accountability”, says Dr Gallagher. “By allowing the tourists themselves - the lifeblood of this and any tourism industry - to rank the performance, safety, and environmental ethics of operators around the world, the industry as a whole becomes more transparent and we can promote the good and hopefully phase out the bad."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shark Stanley & Sharks4Kids in St. Eustatius

The Dutch Caribbean islands of St. Eustatius (often shortened to Statia), Saba and Sint Maarten all hosted Shark Weeks this summer. The main goal of these conservation themed weeks was to promote the creation of new shark sanctuaries throughout the Caribbean. The team from STENAPA (St Eustatius National Parks Foundation), led by education and outreach coordinator Claire Blair, hosted an epic week of movies, student activities and even hosted a Shark Stanley day. Duncan and I were supposed to take part in the event, but Hurricane Erika arranged our schedule and sent us back to Florida after less than 24 hours in Sint Maarten. We were scheduled to attend Sea and Learn on Saba in October, so we decided to visit Statia as part of this trip and do a sort of Shark Week 2.0 with the students.

Bethel Methodist School
 We hit the ground running.  Claire and marine park manager Jessica Berkel picked us up from the airport and and we headed straight to CSNI (Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute at St Eustatius) for a special edition of the monthly Science CafĂ©. Duncan and I gave a presentation about the role of media and science in shark conservation. We had a much larger crowd than expected and thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that followed. It was clear from the minute we arrived: Statia has some shark lovers!

Golden Rock Roman Catholic School
The next day we started our busy tour of the local schools. In the morning we visited both the Golden Rock Roman Catholic School and Bethel Methodist School speaking to students in grades 1-6. During Shark Week, STENAPA had hosted a coloring and art contest for the students and Claire escorted us to each school to award prizes from the contest.

In the afternoon we visited the Mega D Youth Foundation and spoke to a group of students ranging form elementary to high school. I am always fascinated by the questions students ask and just how much they actually know about sharks. It is inspiring to see them excited and eager to take part in shark conservation. Many of the students we spoke with had seen a shark, which gives them a personal connection. Seeing an animal in the wild can be very powerful in changing the way people perceive sharks, so starting kids off at a young age can have a life long impact.

We rounded out the day with a community presentation at Super Burger and were again pleasantly surprised by the crowd. Kids and adults joined us and engaging conservations were once again had after our talk. I love visiting schools, but it is equally important to engage with the community. These are the people making decisions, supporting regulations and promoting tourism and protecting the local environment. It also gives the community a chance to get to know the people speaking at the schools, our mission and why we do what we do.

The next day started earlier because we had a flight to catch in the afternoon. We visited the two other primary schools on the island, Lynch Plantation Seventh Day Adventist School and Governor de Graaf School. Claire gave away more prizes for incredible artwork and Mr. Sharky made an appearance after arriving in my bag (which decided to stay in Sint Maarten a day longer than I did) that morning. It always makes my heart happy seeing gets get excited and want their pictures with the shark. It makes sharks seem fun and we are all about replacing fear with fun and fascination. Getting kids excited and interested increases the likelihood of their continued positive outlook towards sharks as they grow up.

We had a wonderful trip and met some really passionate people making incredible efforts to protect the environment. Special thanks to STENAPA, CNSI, Shark Stanley and Shark Defenders. Collaboration can be a beautiful thing and working with Shark Stanley has been an incredible opportunity and a wonderful tool in our outreach programs.

Guest blog by Jillian Morris. Jillian is the founder and president of Sharks4Kids, a shark education organization based in Florida. She has a behavioral biology degree and is a professional videographer and photographer who spends most of her time on the island of Bimini, The Bahamas swimming with sharks. You can follow Jillian on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Sharks of Bimini

Hey folks!

And we're back. Here's a new blog for you!

Nurse shark
Bimini, The Bahamas is the sharkiest place I've ever been in my life.  It's home to the world famous Sharklab, of course, but it's also a place where large sharks roam freely.  In a single day I saw six species of shark, plus three species of ray.  The nurse sharks (Data Deficient) were everywhere.  They were inside the lab's pens, at the dive sites, and swimming in the marina (more photos on Facebook).

Lemon shark
Lemon sharks (Near Threatened) were also in the pens.  I also saw an adult swimming in the marina.

A video posted by @tadziobervoets on

The bull sharks (Near Threatened) patrol the Big Game Club marina every day.  The scientists at the lab go there to study them.  One also came in for a visit when we visited the hammerheads.

Caribbean reef (Near Threatened) and blacknose sharks (Near Threatened) swarmed us at the Triangle Rocks.  The reefies are about 5 feet long; the blacknoses are smaller.

I've swum with all those species at different times, but this was my first time to see a great hammerhead (Endangered).  I spent two days on the water.  I saw three on the first day and one on the second.

I also saw several spotted eagle rays (Near Threatened) both at the marina and out on the water, several southern stingrays (Data Deficient), and a single yellow-spotted ray (unassessed by IUCN) hanging out in the marina.

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