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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

The importance of Sharks in our Ocean – more than just Awesomeness!

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By: Cris Merz

Apex Predators – that is what they are.  Often the baddies in movies, whether it is terrorizing a peaceful beach, swinging about in tornados killing people in landlocked towns or eliminating the English spy with “lasers” on their foreheads.

They have the notoriety of being tough, relentless, and a powerful killing machine.  Unfortunately, they are the victim of a reputation that labels them as mean, vicious and unforgiving.  Like most endangered species, they have also become trophies to many hunters.  Shark fishing competitions are held all over the globe.  NBC Sports even had a program dedicated to the competitive fishing of sharks.

The fact is, they need love, more than anything.

Population Decline

According to SharkSavers.org, about 1/3 of all sharks are threatened with extinction.  80% of ocean shark species are at risk from high seas fisheries.  Because of the exposure that sharks have to these high seas fisheries using such fishing arts such as long-line, shark populations of hammerheads, silky, oceanic, mako and tigersharks in areas that once had a healthy population are experiencing declines of up to 90%.  The fact that sharks have a very low reproductive cycle and often reach maturity as long as 33 years in the case of many females, overfishing has a huge impact on populations.

The population of sharks is greatly affected by industrial fishing.  WildAid estimated that approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year.  73 million for the purpose of shark fin soup.

Shark Fins and Soup

Shark fin soup became a delicacy one thousand years ago, in the Sung Dynasty.  Currently, it has become a symbol of prosperity and wealth.  The sad part about all this – is that it is tasteless.  The shark fin itself adds the rubbery texture to the dish but it does nothing for the taste.  As a matter of fact – the only real flavor to the soup is the essence of chicken because that is what it is, chicken broth.

As a dish that usually goes for $95 a bowl but all the way up to over $100 depending on your location, it is usually reserved for grand occasions like high profile business lunches or wedding parties.  Though an unsustainable fishing practice, those that speak on behalf of shark fin soup claim that bans are culturally discriminatory.  Over the last five years, more and more awareness has been spread through campaigning and social media to encourage consumers to not only boycott places that serve soup, but to also boycott airlines and carriers that ship them. A huge victory for sharks was when Air China banned the cargo of shark fin soup joining 36 other carriers.  And while the likes of UPS and DHL have banned cargo containing shark fin back in 2015, FedEx has still to commit claiming that what they do is “legal.”

The Importance of Sharks in Our Ocean

Besides the awesomeness that it is diving side-by-side with a school of hammerheads, or snorkeling next to a 40 ft whale shark gulping on plankton with an open mouth that could swallow you whole, it is very good for tourism.  There are so many destinations that have become “must see” bucket list places for divers.  Coco, Socorro Islands, Galapagos Isla Mujeres are all destinations that offer high impact diving or snorkeling that allows divers to experience some very close encounters with these apex creatures.  However, it is not the sustainable industry of tourism that makes sharks important to planet earth, although it is a favorable argument when trying to not only enact laws but also enforce them in many marine reserves that are shredded daily by illegal fishing, it is important to the ocean itself as an ecosystem.  To quote the famous line from underwater awareness guru and Jedi Master Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi, “It brings balance to the Force”.

Bringing Balance to the Ocean

Sharks are top of the food chain.  As an apex predator, they keep other populations in check.  By being extremely effective in their feeding habits, sharks often feast on the old or sick grooming the populations of predators that may be directly beneath them.  Eliminating them from the food chain would cause a potential devastation to other species that share the habitat with sharks.  Their role in the ocean heavily affects the general health of the population as well and maintaining a diversity by keeping other predator’s populations in check.  Removal of sharks could also change hunting habits as well as feeding habits of other species that could influence seagrass, corals as well as the collapse of other fisheries.

“One study in the U.S. indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in the destruction of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, due to the unchecked population growth of cow-nose rays, whose mainstay is scallops. Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into extreme decline when the sharks have been overfished, destroying an entire ecosystem. The downstream effects are frightening: the spike in grouper population (thanks to the elimination of sharks) resulted in a decimation of the parrotfish population, who could no longer perform their important role: keeping the coral algae-free and therefore reducing the oxygen quantities in our atmosphere. The knock on effects of this could be devastating for all life on Earth.” https://www.seashepherd.org.au/apex-harmony/overview/shark-importance.html

What Can I Do To Help?

People often ask; what can we do to help?  I am just a person?

  • First and foremost, do not buy food containing shark fin.
  • Always opt for environmental and sustainable alternatives and substitutes. It isn’t just about the shark meat. Shark cartilage and oils are found in a range of products from beauty items to health nutrition. By boycotting shark products, you will reduce market demand.
  • Contact your elected officials asking them what steps they are taking to end the unregulated trade in shark fins. Let your legislators know that sharks are important to you.  Ask them to introduce and support legislation that will list sharks as protected species.  This has helped in many cities across the globe forcing restaurants to take shark fin soup off the menu.
  • Stay current through social media and other publications to see what is being done and how you can help, whether it is just by taking a pledge or sharing it with your friends. Tell your friends and relatives that they may be contributing to the irreversible decline of shark populations.

Speak out when you see abuse.  This can mean anything from molesting sharks during a dive or fishing for them illegally

  • Stay informed and share. Learn how different human activities put sharks at risk. By educating yourself on the issues, you can find effective ways to help by speaking at local clubs, schools and other local venues that might create awareness. By understanding the issues, you can teach others about sharks and inspire them to get involved as well.
  • Reduce Your Seafood Consumption. No one likes to hear this.  Unfortunately, commercial fishing impacts the sharks negatively in more than one way.  Besides reducing their own source of food, sharks are themselves a byproduct of commercial fishing.

To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: My Octopus Teacher

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netflix documentary: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher is the story of how filmmaker Craig Foster befriends a common octopus in the kelp forests off of the Cape Town coast.  Mike and I love to watch all things underwater and nature-based and so eagerly sat down to this documentary film, a new September arrival on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here:

After burning out at work Foster finds fascination and a deep connection with nature when spending time freediving at his favourite local spot.  In a sequence familiar to those who watched the “Green Seas” episode of Blue Planet 2, he comes across an octopus camouflaging itself with shells.  With his curiosity piqued, he begins to seek out the octopus on all of his dives, finding delight in its seemingly strange behaviours, learning what he can from the scientific literature and slowing working to gain the mollusc’s trust on his daily visits to her world.

My Octopus Teacher portrays a very anthropomorphised view of our subject and Foster’s relationship with her.  His conclusions tend to be more emotional than scientific and his eagerness to find similarities between himself and the octopus shows a great sentimentality.  However, you cannot help but be captivated by the incredible mutual curiosity and bond developing before you.  This relationship, and the stunning scenes of the kelp forest with its diverse inhabitants make for a deeply absorbing viewing experience.  There is some fantastic cephalopod behaviour, from the octopus adapting her hunting tactics for different prey, to strategies for outwitting predators and incredible colour and shape morphology.  Foster is also keen to point out how little we know about octopuses and that there is a great opportunity to learn something with every dive.

One of my favourite observations made by Foster at the end of the film is that by going into the water for liberation from daily life’s concerns and dramas, he realised how precious these wild places are.  As he starts to care about all the animals there, even the most minuscule, he comes to find that each one is both important and vulnerable.  Foster finds that his relationship with the octopus changes him and he feels a part of the kelp forest rather than just a visitor, an experience he then shares with his son.  To me Foster’s insight that we must connect with an environment in order to be truly motivated to protect it resonated very strongly.  For those fortunate enough to fall in love with our wilder environments and connect with them, seeing it mirrored in this documentary is quite moving.

Overall we very much enjoyed the film, especially the weird and wonderful behaviours caught on screen and the story as it unfolds.  Though our first reaction was one of pure jealousy (that Foster has such a stunning local dive spot and coastal property!) we soon moved past the envy and found My Octopus Teacher to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which we highly recommend.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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