Friday, May 31, 2013

Sharks Worth More Alive Than Dead

A tourist interacts with a grey reef shark in the Marshall Islands.  Photo: Shawn Heinrichs
According to a new global analysis led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and other scientists, shark watching is a major economic driver for dozens of countries, generating $314 million annually. Citing the study's projections that shark-related tourism could more than double within 20 years, generating over $780 million annually, The Pew Charitable Trusts is calling for greater protections for sharks through the designation of sanctuaries around the world.

Shark-related tourism is a growing business worldwide, with established operations in at least 83 locations in 29 countries. Although places such as South Africa, the United States, and Australia have typically dominated this industry, shark ecotourism is becoming an economic boon to countries across the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions. The study finds that shark watching attracts 590,000 tourists and supports more than 10,000 jobs each year.

The increase in shark ecotourism and its economic value can lead to interest in establishing sanctuaries for sharks, which play a critical role in the health of marine systems. In recent years, nine countries—Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, Tokelau, The Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia—have created sanctuaries by prohibiting commercial shark fishing to protect the animals in their waters.

"It's clear that sharks contribute to a healthy marine environment, which is paramount to the long-term social, cultural, and financial well-being of millions of people around the world," says Jill Hepp , director of global shark conservation at Pew. "Many countries have a significant financial incentive to conserve sharks and the places where they live."

In contrast to the growing ecotourism industry, the value of global shark catches has been declining, largely as a result of overfishing. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year primarily for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, a popular dish in Asia.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

45 Minutes in Kiribati

Working in shark conservation takes me to some exotic locations on the globe.  This week I am in Fiji working with our partners.  My flight from Hawaii made a connection in Kiritimati in the Line Islands of Kiribati on the way there.  Here are a few photos I snapped out the window with my phone.

I've been to several atolls in the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia, but Kiritimati is unlike any I've ever seen before.  The island is a raised coral atoll, so where there would normally be lagoon are sand flats and copra plantations.

That's the Kiritimati International Airport over my shoulder.  We weren't allowed to deplane unless we were disembarking, but the airline attendants let us stand in the plane's door to snap photos.

Most of the people flying from Hawaii to Kiritimati were American tourists.  The sand flats have some of the best bone fishing in the world.  Flyfishermen fly in, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, and then fly out when the weekly flight comes back.

We were only on the ground for about 45 minutes.  I'm sure if you googled them, you'd be able to find photos of the island and the surrounding waters, but I thought you'd enjoy my photos.  I uploaded a few more to Facebook if you are interested.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

STOP - Hammertime!

Guest Blog
by Annie Anderson

In my last blog you read about my experience volunteering at the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (BBFSF).  This time you’re going to hear about all sorts including a very epic shark dive!

In February this year I was fortunate enough to head back over to Bimini to help support the Sharklab with a few projects, to indulge in some relaxation, and to dive with sharks!

Whilst at the lab one of the Ph.D. students Jean Finger hoped to capture Lemon sharks for his project on personality traits. He decided to place a gillnet in a popular ‘hot spot’ hoping that we could capture some sharks for his behavioural trials. So with the sun shining I headed out with a crew on one of the labs skiffs to assist with a day's gillnetting. As mentioned previously the Sharklab check the nets every 15 minutes to release any bycatch such as crabs, rays and other fish. With the net set it was a waiting game. Sitting on a boat for hours in 28 degree heat with no shade can be both relaxing (For those who desire a tan!) and draining (For those who get hot and bothered!) Drinking water, sunscreen and a hat were total necessities.  For 5 long hours we waited with not a single shark in sight!

We did catch two very cute turtles though, which we released a short distance away from the net. So an unsuccessful day meant Jean would be heading back out within the week to try again. Needle in a haystack? Not entirely, these juvenile lemon sharks have quite a small home range when young so they rarely venture too far.

One of my other tasks while at the lab was to assist with data processing and input. You may remember in my previous blog how the lab takes small fin clips for DNA and stable isotope analysis when ‘working up’ sharks?  All data taken needs to be entered into the labs database so every clip (a finger nail size piece of shark fin) is placed into small bags with a piece of paper stating crucial information such as shark species, length, sex, location, and date of capture. Samples are refrigerated before being shipped to New York and Canada for analysis by collaborators Dr. Demian Chapman & Dr. Nigel Hussey. As you can imagine this is quite a smelly job. To date the Sharklab has collected over 4000 DNA samples from lemon sharks.  That’s a serious lemon shark family tree expanding by the day!

You probably want to hear about the hammerheads, right? Well, how can I possibly explain how it feels to see the odd looking, yet extremely impressive great hammerhead swimming towards you for the first time? Ok, well picture the scene.. You’re snorkelling in 5m of crystal clear water, patiently waiting. Looking. Waiting. Looking. Waiting. Looking. You see something.. It looks big. Your heart rate increases and you’re flooded with mixed emotions.. Oh, it’s just a Nurse shark (and I LOVE Nurse sharks!) You see another Nurse, and then another, and another! … You’re still waiting for ‘The one’. You’ve been in the water for over an hour now, you’re getting cold and your eyes are flicking left to right, left to right as you concentrate on any movement in the distance. Then you see her. A huge ~3.3m Great Hammerhead. She glides in effortlessly and the Nurse sharks are dwarfed in her presence.

The dorsal fin of a Great Hammerhead is MASSIVE and that along with her huge ’Hammer’ demands your attention. Everything blends into a blur as your focus is solely on her. She’s beautiful. She moves so graciously and smoothly turns and manoeuvres on the sandy bottom almost like she was dancing for us. It couldn’t get any better right? Wrong, another Hammer turns up. This one’s a little shy, he stays for 15 minutes and leaves after his curiosity is satisfied. The big female however stays for over an hour allowing us to free-dive down to the bottom where she accepts us and lets us take a closer look. She even stuck around after the Director at the station Dr. Tristan Guttridge tagged her with a external dart tag! The Sharklab have now tagged 28 Great Hammerheads in the past 4 yrs - one returning from 2.5 yrs ago! Using this unique location they have plans for tracking these sharks to see if they travel to Florida or other Bahamian Islands. Such information is crucial to help conserve and manage this endangered and enigmatic species! I felt blessed that these sharks let us share their space in such peace. It truly was a magical a experience.

So how do I follow that? I simply can’t! After a day like that a few drinks, a good dinner and a game of ‘Ring toss’ (The only game at the local bar!) doesn’t really cut it! But it did because the amount of adrenaline exerted on the dive meant we all slept well that night!

In my next blog I’ll be writing about my recent experience with Blacktip sharks, a little more on some of the BBFSF team and how YOU can help support their work, even from your armchair :)

Annie Anderson is the founder of Sharks Need Love. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger.  More photos from Sharklab are posted to Shark Defenders Facebook Page.  You can follow Sharklab on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates from the station.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Shark Defender in Training: Nick Silverstein

Nick Silverstein, third grade, 8 years old from Jackson Heights, New York has been passionate about sharks since he was three years old, questioning their types, abilities and facts. Nick has visited many aquariums and researches sharks constantly. He has become very concerned about the threat of their extinction. He is adamant about becoming a marine biologist and saving sharks throughout the world. He is writing letters to our congressman regarding laws that are in place and wants to be a part of saving sharks. Nick has joined Shark Defenders in the hopes of becoming more involved with his passion. Although Nick is just 8, his knowledge far surpasses mine in regard to sharks. He wants to become more involved in any way he can. Nick hosted a booth at a local vendor fair on Sunday, April 21. He created a tri-fold board and handed out informational material to inform others of the shark populations of the world. He also made t-shirts "Save the Species" to advertise for his cause. A local paper put Nick in the paper for his "good deed". He has collected over 500 signatures and is determined to get the 1,000 to manage his own page.

Shark Defenders has several ways for you to volunteer and suggests 10 Things You Can Do to Protect Sharks.

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