Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Follow the Frog

This psa has nothing to do with sharks (there are probably some bull sharks in the rainforest, though), but we want to share it with you. because. it. is. excellent!
You don't have to go to the ends of the Earth to save the rainforest. Just Follow the Frog! Shop for Rainforest Alliance Certified products here.

The Rainforest Alliance is a nonprofit conservation organization that holds Charity Navigator's highest rating of Four Stars.

What's behind the green frog seal? Only farms that meet rigorous sustainability criteria earn the right to use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. These criteria address all of the three pillars of sustainability -- environmental protection, social equity and economic viability -- and farms are evaluated by independent, third-party auditors. Learn more about Rainforest Alliance Certification and its impacts here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Meanwhile in Australia...

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

Happy Halloween!

My PADI instructor taught me when I was first learning to dive that when I see a shark I should remain calm and slowly swim away.  In the years since I have had the good fortune to swim with sharks in The Bahamas, Micronesia, and the Great Barrier Reef, and to be honest I have found this advice unhelpful.  The sharks always swim calmly away from me!

It is very difficult to talk about shark conservation without talking about fear.  Sharks eat people.  Sharks are killers.  People are afraid of sharks and many think that the only good shark is a dead shark.

Obviously, this has not been my experience.  I have never felt uncomfortable or afraid when there were sharks in the water.  But I live on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and have been swimming with sharks -- even if I couldn't always see them -- since ever since.

Shark conservationists say that there is no need to be afraid of sharks.  They say that sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them because on average about 5 humans are bitten and killed by sharks each year.  In the same year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins.

Yet despite the statistics, we are fascinated and frightened of sharks.  In fact, our fear of sharks pops up in the strangest of places.

While the winds of Hurricane Sandy were still gusting, a photo of a small shark swimming in a flooded front yard started spreading virally across the Internet.  This is not the first time such a photo has appeared after a big storm.  Last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a photo of a great white shark swimming down a flooded street made the rounds.

These photos turned out to be hoaxes, but the scenario is strikingly similar to a new Australian film called Bait 3D.  In the film, a group of people find themselves trapped underwater inside a supermarket after a tsunami with several man eating great white sharks.

I haven't seen the entire movie yet, but I imagine it is at least as good as Shark Night 3D.

But is something like this even possible?  Are sharks even able to survive in murky flood waters?  Is this something we should really be afraid of?

The scary answer -- or the awesome answer depending on how you feel about sharks -- is yes!

For the last 17 years at the Carbrook Golf Club in Brisbane, Australia, a half dozen bull sharks have been swimming in the water hazard by the 15th tee.  The sharks became stranded after a flood and have been trapped ever since.

Six marine apex-predators trapped in a small fresh water lake?  I'm not going to admit to being scared, but perhaps these sharks should only be viewed from shore.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Shark in Front Yard

The DC Shark Defenders are hunkered down trying to ride out Hurricane Sandy.

While waiting for the power to go out we noticed this photo making the rounds on the Internet.

The media purports it to be a small shark swimming in a flooded Atlantic City, New Jersey front yard.

Fake or real?  What do you think?

H/T to Kevin McCarty for the photo.

And while we have your attention, please watch this video from the world's largest shark sanctuary.  We've also got more photos of us diving with 25 sharks -- without a cage.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dispatches from the Marshall Islands: Song of the Sea

Guest Blog
By Angelo Villagomez

Isn’t it funny how fate can intervene sometimes?

The day I met Niten Anni, I was sitting outside having lunch with filmmaker Shawn Heinrichs in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. We were visiting the Pacific island country to participate in a training session on marine enforcement and to film a movie about sharks and the Marshall Islands, home of the world’s largest shark sanctuary.

While at the restaurant, Shawn and I were making plans to get to the Marshalls island of Kwajalein to see for ourselves whether stories of waters teeming with sharks were true. As we talked, a young man walked by, strumming a ukulele. We learned that he was a Marshallese musician, Niten Anni. I asked him if he would sing a few songs for our video and, lucky for us, he agreed.

I met Niten in Majuro.
Niten sang several beautiful songs in Marshallese about the surrounding ocean and his Pacific culture. He sang about his home island of Mejit, a distant spot with a population of 300. He sang of the people and of life on the island, and while Shawn and I listened, we were stunned that we had simply stumbled upon him by chance.

Sharks have been a part of Marshall Islands folklore and culture for centuries, and people living among the atolls understand that these animals play an important role in ocean and island health. Niten told us that he’s proud that his country has the world’s largest shark sanctuary. He’s proud that it is protecting sharks.

My hope is that this sentiment is shared by millions of others around the world and that someday the entire Pacific may sing a similar tune.

Published by the Pew Environment Group on October 25, 2012.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Identifying Shark Fins

Pew’s global shark conservation campaign developed Identifying Shark Fins: Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle and Hammerheads to help users rapidly identify dried shark fins found in fishing ports, sold by seafood dealers, or traded across international boundaries.

Many experts agree that it is necessary to monitor the trade in fins of five shark species of concern: oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and three species of hammerhead (scalloped, smooth, and great). These species are globally distributed and large-bodied, and their fins are traded internationally in large numbers. All of these species have been proposed for inclusion in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which identifies species that could become threatened without trade regulation.

This guide describes the key characteristics that can be used to quickly and easily distinguish the first dorsal fins of these five species from other types of shark fins in trade.

One Year Later: The World's Largest Shark Sanctuary

The Marshall Islands is celebrating its first anniversary of being home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary. It’s an area of the central Pacific Ocean spanning 1,990,530 square kilometers (768,547 square miles)—nearly four times the landmass of California—in which commercial fishing of all sharks is prohibited. And not only is it the biggest, but its shark protections are also the strongest.

Recently the Pew Environment Group caught up with former Sen. Carlotta Leon Guerrero from Guam, who, as a regional leader on development and marine conservation issues, helped establish the shark sanctuary in 2011. She described the progress made to date and how the Marshall Islands is a model for countries interested in maintaining ocean health by protecting their top ocean predator.

What do sharks mean to you as a Pacific Islander?

Guerrero: Sharks are the protectors in our stories and myths, but now it is our turn to protect them. As Pacific Islanders, we need to stand up to the huge fishing vessels from distant countries. The Asian luxury of shark fin soup, for which these sharks are senselessly killed, is just to show off. That is wrong, very wrong.

How can you tell that the shark sanctuary is working? Are there indications?

Guerrero: First of all, it is working because the people support it. All of the mayors and all of the senators in the entire country are united in their mission to save sharks. Also, over the past year, we have seen a number of high-profile seizures of illegal fins in the Marshall Islands. There have been successful prosecutions of four violations resulting in fines of more than $235,000 since the sanctuary was declared.

If fishing vessels are being fined for illegally possessing sharks, where does the funding go after it is collected?

Guerrero: The fines are used to fund the operations of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Agency, so in a way, the fines from the enforcement of the fishery are used to fund its own further enforcement. It pays for itself.

What can other countries learn from the Marshall Islands shark sanctuary?

Guerrero: The Marshalls are showing us that it can be done. They created a strong policy, and now the government agencies are enforcing the law. Enforcement doesn’t require creating a new agency for shark protection; it mostly requires some additional training for the conservation officers charged with implementing regulations for tuna, reefs, turtles, and whales. And if an additional officer or two are needed, the fines from the first violations can help offset those costs.

Published by the Pew Environment Group on October 23, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dispatches from Micronesia: A Trip to Chuuk's Shark Island

Guest Blog
By Angelo Villagomez

Chuuk, one of four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, is a world-renowned scuba diving destination, boasting dozens of World War II-era shipwrecks. It is also known for its sharks, which are attracted to the marine life that has made a home among the sunken wrecks.

The waters surrounding Chuuk’s tiny Shark Island are home to several species of sharks, including the gray, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks. The island, which is no bigger than a baseball diamond and supports a handful of coconut trees, is circled by dozens of sharks. Shark Island is known as a “cleaning station” where hungry cleaner wrasses rid sharks of dead skin, external parasites, and other pests.

During a recent visit to Chuuk, representing the Pew Environment Group, I had the chance to sit down with Cindy Hall, manager of the Truk Lagoon Dive Center, to talk about shark diving there. Hall is an experienced guide who has lived on the island since 2009. Previously she worked in the Maldives and The Bahamas, Grenada, and Turks and Caicos.

The waters surrounding tiny Shark Island in Chuuk are known as a 'cleaning station' for sharks.
They travel here to rid themselves of dead skin and parasites.
Villagomez: Chuuk is known to divers for its wrecks, but on this visit I was pleasantly surprised to hear about Shark Island. A name like that sure conjures up an image.

Hall: Well, can you think of a better name? I certainly can’t. The cleaning station is a magnet for sharks. You can see up to 25 here sometimes.

Villagomez: Are sharks common in Chuuk? How often do you see them?

Hall: You can see them on nearly every dive. Beyond the wrecks, there’s a good chance you’ll see a gray reef shark. A lot of times the divers are so interested in the wrecks that they won’t see the sharks swimming right over them.

A pair of blacktip reef sharks, accompanied by golden trevallies,
swim around Shark Island in Chuuk.
Villagomez: What species do you find most often?

Hall: We don’t see that many whitetip reefs, but we do see a lot of grays and blacktips. On the outreef, we’ll see silvertips and the occasional silky, down to about 30 meters depth. I once saw a tiger shark inside the lagoon.

Villagomez: How important are sharks to your business?

Hall: It is so important. The tourism industry is the only real industry we have here in Chuuk. One diver can bring in several thousand dollars per trip. They pay the diver fees, including the government’s $30 user fee, but they also stay in hotels, rent cars, and eat in our restaurants. Living sharks are worth far more than dead ones. Shark diving is a sustainable business, whereas commercial shark fishing is not. We can bring divers out to Shark Island every day, but a fisherman would only be able to fish it once and the sharks would be gone.

Villagomez: Are people pleased to see sharks swimming at Shark Island and in Chuuk in general?

Hall: I’m always surprised how many divers have never seen a shark, and I’m happy to give them the opportunity to go see them. And even for those who have seen sharks, most have never seen a cleaning station like Shark Island.

Building an Underwater Oasis for Sharks

During the Micronesian Chief Executives’ Summit in July 2011, representatives from Chuuk and other regions pledged to join a much larger effort to create the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary. The agreement includes all four members of the Federated States of Micronesia—Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae—as well as the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Once established, it will result in a regional sanctuary covering 5 million square kilometers (2 million square miles).

For more than a year, the Pew Environment Group has been working with communities in FSM discuss the important role sharks play in their waters. On Sept. 21, 2012, Kosrae became the first state of Micronesia to make the commitment to protect sharks in its waters. The unanimous vote by the legislature in Kosrae, a small island of 7,700 people in the Pacific, is an important step toward creation of the regional shark sanctuary. The legislation now heads to Gov. Lyndon Jackson’s desk for signature.

For more information about the Pew Environment Group’s global shark conservation work, visit

The Truk Stop Hotel & Dive Center is a full-service Professional Association of Diving Instructors dive center on the island of Weno in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia. For more information visit,

Published by the Pew Environment Group on October 11, 20

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Protect Sharks and Manta Rays at CITES

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, is made up of 176 countries that meet every three years to draft up rules on the protection and management of, well, the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora.

This international treaty protects endangered species like whales, dolphins, and turtles, but despite there being 150 shark species assessed as threatened or near threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, only three species of shark are listed by CITES. While there are national and regional protections for some species of sharks, CITES is the only international body that protects species on a global level.

Conservationists hope this situation will begin to change at the next Conference of the Parties to be held in Bangkok in March 2013. A diverse coalition of shark conservation countries has put forth proposals to protect five species of shark and two species of manta ray.

On behalf of the young people who love our ocean and want to see threatened sharks protected from extinction, thank you and congratulations to the forward thinking governments of Brazil, Comoros, Costa Rica, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, and the 27 member States of the European Union for proposing these important animals for protection.

Gaining protections for each of these proposals requires 2/3 affirmative votes from the voting 176 members countries. If you would like to show your support to the leaders of your country, you can start by downloading these two graphics and sharing, tweeting, and pinning them to your social networks. In the weeks and months to come Shark Defenders will have more ways for you to help save the world’s sharks. You can also sign up to take the Shark Defenders Pledge so that we can email you directly for your help.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fiji Considers National Plan of Action for Sharks

Widespread concern over the lack of management of shark fisheries and declining shark populations led to the adoption and endorsement of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA–Sharks) in 1999. This is aimed at ensuring the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use, with particular emphasis on improving species-specific catch and landings data collection, and the monitoring and management of shark fisheries. The IPOA–Sharks recommends, inter alia, that all States contributing to fishing mortality on an elasmobranch species or stock should participate in its management, and should develop a National Shark Plan by 2001.

Fiji is in the midst of public consultations to draft a national plan of action for sharks.  From the Fiji Times:
FIJI will soon have a National Action Plan for sharks in Fiji.
Consultations are in progress at the Southern Cross Hotel in Suva to determine how these measures will be implemented.
Ian Freeman, fisheries management adviser of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agencies, said the consultations would enable stakeholders to build a plan for shark conservation and management in Fiji waters.
He said they wanted to ensure shark catches from directed and non-directed fisheries were sustainable and minimise the unutilised incidental catching of sharks.
He said participants from relevant authorities and NGOs would assess the threat to shark populations and implement harvesting strategies consistent with the principles of biological sustainability and rational long-term economic use.
"It is important that stakeholders learn how they could draft a plan and how they put those plans to practice," Mr Freeman said.
He said their major concern now was the Oceanic white-tip shark which topped the over fishing list in 2011.
From a graph presented yesterday, 939 sharks were caught by Fiji domestic long liners.
He said of these, 92 were Oceanic white-tip sharks.
Mr Freeman said the scenario was similar to other parts of the country where blue sharks, silky sharks and short fin mako sharks were over caught. The consultations will continue today.
It will be interesting to see how this process develops. While the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agencies reports that only 939 sharks were caught last year, this number does not include sharks released without their fins. This has been found to lead to increased mortality. The amount of illegal, unreported, and underreported sharks killed in Fiji is quite high, as evidenced by this trader who offers the undercover cameraman one ton of shark fin per month.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Share for Mantas

Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia have put forth a proposal to list manta rays at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  If successful, governments will have to manage the trade of these charismatic animals.  Want to show your support?  Post this photo to Facebook and Twitter.  You can Pin it, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pohnpei Manta Rays - GoPro HD

Diving with manta rays in Pohnpei and filming them with a GoPro HD. Wait for 00:39 to see how close they come to the divers.
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