Welcome to our first newsletter!
Here’s what is included this month…
Intern of the Month – Chelsea Gray
Taking a big leap into the world of Shark Conservation, future intern Chelsea Gray is our Sharkservation feature of the month! Chelsea will be on the White Shark Eco Program during the months of February and March and hopes to gain insight on the much misunderstood Great White Shark to promote education and conservation. Although this project is a brand new adventure for Chelsea, it certainly isn’t the beginning of her journey to save the sharks.
Many shark enthusiasts can attest, a passion for sharks is life-long. For Gray, she began studying sharks at a very young age. As a teenager, her curiosity lead her to become SCUBA certified so that she could finally immerse herself in an environment she always felt connected to, the ocean. On a trip to the Bahamas, Chelsea was able to enter the home of her favourite animal. There is nothing quite like your first shark dive, as Chelsea agrees, “It was my first time with sharks in their native environment, and I was in awe at their agility and grace. When I look back at those photos, I see something primal, ancient, and maybe even wise in their eyes. “
After a short stay with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, Chelsea knew it was her calling to continue paving a path in shark education. She was an intern at the National Aquarium in Washington D.C. where her passion was put to work creating and delivering educational talks to visitors from around the world. Gray recalls her dedication to the Cold Water Pacific section of the aquarium stating, “I spent hours in that shark tank, scrubbing algae and cleaning the sand. I stayed in until my hands and feet went numb from the cold, just to spend as much time as possible with the sharks.
The National Aquarium closed its doors in 2013 and since Gray has continued educating with more focus on fresh water ecosystems. While she loves the water and all of its living creatures, Chelsea is clearly missing the presence of sharks and hopes that working with Sharkservation will fill that void. “When it comes to Sharkservation, I am not entirely sure what to expect other than an incredible experience. I really hope to gain new insight into the research that is being done on sharks worldwide.”
A healthy future for sharks is possible because of people out there like Gray who states, “I’m not sure what my future will bring, however I will never stop doing my best to save sharks. Education is the most powerful tool we can arm ourselves with, and I educate people about sharks whether they want it or not! Regardless of where the tide takes me, sharks will always be close to my heart.”
Sharkservation is bringing together a community of passionate people with one common goal; ensure a future for the ocean’s apex predators. We’d like to give a HUGE thank you to Chelsea, and everyone out there like her who is joining us on our journey. Sign on to a volunteer project to become our next featured Sharkservationist!
By Amanda Brewer
Follow Chelsea on her Instagram page @sharksareawesome to see what she gets up to on the program!
Shark-Work – Shark Addicts
If you’re a shark fan, then this next story is definitely one to tune into! With well over 50,000 Instagram followers and thousands of YouTube hits, Cameron Nimmo and Mickey Smith are really making a splash in the shark world under the alias, Shark Addicts.
Out of Jupiter, Florida, Cameron and Mickey have teamed up with Emerald Charters for a conservation effort that some find a bit questionable. For those of you who haven’t seen the videos yet, The Shark Addicts are widely recognized for feeding sharks on their weekend dives. Although their most regular customers are lemon sharks, the guys come face to face with a variety of sharks including Tigers, Bulls, and Hammer Heads.
The feeding kicks off at about 95ft below the surface where dive groups watch as these predators gracefully accept “snacks” right from Nimmo’s hands. Video recorded by Smith shows the sharks getting some extra TLC with face massages and belly rubs. Of course, adrenaline junkies world-wide took to these videos immediately as the Shark Addicts were doing what most people thought was impossible, befriending the sharks.
Although the shark feeding is by far one of the coolest experiences an ocean lover could imagine, the guys have certainly dealt with their share of controversy. There are people who believe that feeding the sharks can deter them from hunting on their own. Others feel it conditions the sharks to approach humans in hopes of an easy meal. Of course, you’ll always find groups that feel nature should just simply be left alone. These arguments are not completely invalid however most research shows that feeding these sharks small amounts far from beach goers has little to no effect on the sharks behaviour and has no ties to accidents or attacks near shore. All of the feeding is done more than 3 nautical miles offshore following state guidelines. Despite the argument, this duo keeps doing what they love and here’s why…
Cameron and Mickey don’t feed for the fun of it. They are a duo looking to make a difference for the sharks. The guys feel that exposing the public to realistic shark behaviours is a step toward mass conservation. The general public tends to think that sharks are mindless, man-eating machines. The video footage that these two put out is not only entertaining, but it also demonstrates sharks and humans interacting safely. “Like” by “Like”, Nimmo and Smith are changing minds. Above and beyond spreading the word, They’ve started saving lives by removing fishing hooks from the silky and lemons sharks.
Opinions on this topic can go either way. I personally feel like all good press is just that, good press! Ideally we would live in a world where we can let nature survive, even thrive on its own. Unfortunately, We don’t live in a perfect world. Sharks are being over fished to the point where populations are so significantly low, scientists fear extinction for many species. We need to reach a large audience. We need the general public to hear our message. What better way to get their attention than hand-feeding a 10 foot Lemon Shark?
You can find Cammeron Nimmo (@sharkaddicts) and Mickey Smith (@sharkaddicts2) on Instagram to follow their journey in shark education and also subscribe to their YouTube page (Shark Addicts). More information on the Shark Addicts at www.shark-addicts.com.
Have an awesome Sharkservation story you’d like to share? E-mail us and perhaps it will be featured in our next newsletter!
By Amanda Brewer
Conservation Issue – Shark Nets in South Africa
In our first newsletter we are looking at a shark conservation issue in South Africa which is one of the best places in the world to see and dive with sharks. For us here at Sharkservation, South Africa is like our second home, where we have done the most of our shark conservation work; so issues here are close to our hearts. We want to raise awareness of these issues and to inform people of the harm that is being caused to the shark populations there.
Off many beaches along the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast of South Africa, there are what are known as shark nets. These nets are responsible for the deaths of between 500 and 700 sharks per year. This is a small number compared to the number of sharks killed yearly worldwide, or even compared to the total in South Africa alone, however we feel this is a significant issue because it relates to the public’s perception of sharks. The installation of shark nets reinforces our misguided and often times irrational fears of sharks, which in turn fuels the biggest issue faced in shark conservation: the public’s apathy or even loathing towards sharks. If this perception is to be changed, archaic practices such as these need to be reviewed, and hopefully by raising these issues we can help to make the reality of sharks known and help to eventually have these nets completely removed.
The first shark nets were installed in South Africa during the 1950s, following a spate of shark attacks. Many of these attacks have been attributed to shark populations being abnormally high at the time due to the remains from the whaling stations that operated off the coast until 1975 providing sharks with a constant source of food. However due to the public wanting to feel safe when at the beach, the government started to install shark nets. A common misconception of the nets is that they keep the sharks away from the beach, however this is not the case. The nets do not encircle the beach areas, or reach to the seabed. They are in fact gill nets, which are designed to ensnare sharks and drown them, and in fact around 40% of sharks are caught on the inside of the nets! The rationale behind them is that reducing the number of sharks in the sea reduces the number that will potentially come into contact with humans off the beaches and therefore the number of attacks.
The nets are managed by the KZN Shark Board and each net ranges between 200-300 meters in length and lies 6 meters deep, the majority of nets are placed approximately 400 meters off the coast in 10 meters of water and at one point the nets stretched for a total of 45 kilometers. The nets were not reduced until the 1990s and there are still around 24 kilometers remaining. The nets are not selective, and ensnare many animals including large fish, turtles, rays and even whales. They have a significant negative affect on the ecology of the oceans, and pose a massive threat to many sharks and other harmless marine animals, both large and small, due to the fact that they are not a species specific protection barrier. An analysis of by-catch between 1978 and 2008 in the Natal nets recorded a total of 33,684 large sharks caught in the nets of which only 12% were released alive. This included 1,063 white sharks, 1,528 tiger sharks, 26 whale sharks, and 1,580 manta rays as well as a significant number of turtles, dolphins and whales (Peschak 2009).
It is true that the nets have reduced the number of attacks, however it has also been shown that when they are removed this does not increase. At certain times of year, such as during the sardine run when large numbers of marine life are in the area feeding on the balls of bait fish travelling along the coast. Beach visitors are warned that the nets are not in use, and as so make an informed choice about whether or not to enter the water. No casualties have been recorded during these times. Other options are available for deterring sharks including other designs of nets (finer resulting in no by-catch and completely encircling the beach to completely keep the sharks out), electronic deterrents and even early warning systems. On the other coast of South Africa, the Western Cape, an ingenious program has been rolled out in an area with a high number of water users and a healthy white shark population. Instead of drumlines and nets, a unique program called Shark Spotters allows the white sharks and the water users to live in peaceful coexistence – without harm to anyone, including the sharks. Shark Spotters sit high atop the hills flanking the beaches armed with binoculars and radios. All day long, the Shark Spotters watch the shoreline looking for white sharks – who are known to frequent the inshore waters especially in the summer time. When a shark is spotted, the Shark Spotter sounds an alarm announcing the shark’s presence and also hoists a black flag with a white shark on it. People leave the ocean during this time and avoid contact with the sharks altogether.
We feel that any of these options are worth testing to find a better option which can work in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area. But even so, one of the main things which will help change this is changing public opinion on sharks. Films and the media have created an image of sharks being a killer species, waiting to attack as soon as we enter the water. Even Peter Benchley, the author of the book which became a Hollywood hit movie you will all know “Jaws”, was unhappy with how sharks came to be portrayed. This is not the true image of sharks and the media exacerbates the misconceptions.
For practices such as these nets to ever be removed completely, the public perception need to be changed for the better. That can then lead to understanding of sharks and the huge role they play as an apex predator keeping our oceans healthy. From a combination of shark nets, commercial fishing and shark finning, between 70 and 100 million sharks are killed annually. This cannot go on forever, and if the public realise the threat to sharks and what it may mean for our oceans and that other options are available for avoiding shark attacks then this government program will hopefully loose the support which keeps it in place.
At Sharkservation we are intent on changing perceptions of sharks, whether it be through our social media or on the conservation projects we place our interns on; parts of which include talking to the public and educating them on sharks and what is happening to their populations worldwide. We have always felt this is of utmost importance to raising awareness and hope anyone reading this will be inspired to find out more and one day even join us on one of our projects. For further information on these issues please follow the links below, including the KZN Shark Board’s own website and a website where you can sign a petition against the nets being used. Also the short video below investigates the shark net issue further and we feel it sums up the problem, consequences and options available regarding shark nets in South Africa very well.
By Ollie Putnam
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Thanks for reading and tune in again next month for more!