Friday, May 27, 2011

Cut in Style and Save Some Sharks

Guest Blog
by Jana Schebera


As an avid bodyboarder and diver, I have always had a great passion for the sea and its creatures, spending many months searching for the most unspoiled waters. I always found sharks the most fascinating of all the creatures in the ocean. My first encounter, during a diving trip in Thailand, left a deep impression of these amazing animals. It was only some years later that I realized that the world shark population is under serious threat.

This happened when I moved to Hong Kong a few years ago for work. Hong Kong is the gateway to China and the capital of Asian delicacies, many of these controversial as they often consist of endangered species with questionable benefits for human health.

While exploring my new hometown, I discovered a whole quarter dedicated to the wholesale of all kinds of Chinese medicines and supplementary foods. One product all these shops was selling was shark fins. My Chinese friends told me that shark fins are the ultimate delicacy for banquets, in particular in Southern China where people care a great deal about special foods and their potential health benefits. The shops didn't feature just one or two pieces; thousands of fins were on display inside the shops and piled up in front of them.

Shark fins are on sale all over Hong Kong, people can even buy them at the airport. Since I have a big interest in Chinese culture and medicine, I tried to understand what the buzz is all about. The traditional belief is that shark fins, which consist of cartilage alone, are a potent health enhancer. The myth behind this is that sharks don't get cancer, so eating their most vital part could save people from cancer too. However, shark fins are not really a part of Chinese medicine and they are only thought of as a light health supplement. They are very expensive though. So, actually, the biggest thing people get out of shark fin soup is “face” as, because of the cost, it is a big status symbol when served during banquets.

It was clear that tons of shark fins up for sale could not be healthy for the environment – so I did some research on the topic and realized that the endangered state the shark species is in is due to drastic overfishing. Something has to be done here – otherwise in a few years there will be no sharks left. The most effective way to protect the sharks is to change people's attitudes - in particular in Asia – raising awareness about the role of sharks in the marine biosphere, making shark fin soup unpopular among the Chinese and singling it out as an archaic tradition. A major stumbling block to this is the attitude of many people that sharks are brainless killers that make the seas an unsafe place for humans.

A good friend of mine is in the kitchen accessories industry. On a night out, we got talking and came up with an idea: why not design a knife shaped like a shark to raise awareness about shark protection and improve the animal's image – the idea of the shark knife was born. We wanted to design a knife with an appealing look that would, quite literally, put the “cause for sharks” on the table every day.

The next step was to look for a serious organization that is commited to the protection of sharks – since the Shark Foundation is one of the most reputable organizations dedicated to sharks in Germany and Switzerland, and as I am German, the choice was easy and we picked the Shark Foundation.

The Shark Foundation
is one of the earliest shark lobby organizations. Founded in 1997, it is committed to the protection and preservation of sharks. Current projects include sponsoring of a marine reserve in Fiji, several shark identification research projects, scientific consultation for the government of Mozambique in creating a whale shark marine protected area and a traveling exhibition on sharks and their important role in the marine environment.

To support them, we will donate USD 0.70 to the Shark Foundation for every knife sold. Our biggest target markets are Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, where there is not much awareness yet of the need to protect sharks. However, we're also selling the shark knives in other parts of the world.

We have more upcoming projects in the pipeline for shark themed items that are linked to donations for shark and marine protection. The goal is to make a difference through donations, on the one hand, spreading the idea of “your daily shark encounter”, on the other, to raise awareness about these beautiful animals.

Jana Schebera is a business development manager in the logistics
industry in Hong Kong. Visit her website and find out more about the
shark knife at www.tresfin.com.

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