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Marine Life & Conservation

Is the tide turning in favour of sharks?

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Is the tide turning in favour of sharks?

At the end of Shark Week, it’s time for some good news on sharks. Despite all the earlier blogs this week, this is not me trying to convince you sharks are huggable and loveable (though, they are, obviously), rather a round-up of some good conservation news for the world’s often-underappreciated shark species.

This year at the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) convention, countries agreed measures to limit the trade in a number of shark species. That means there is now greater control on several of the most threatened species: hammerheads, porbeagle, oceanic whitetips, as well as whale and basking sharks. Whilst this isn’t earth-shattering news, or full-blown protection it has been a hard-won victory to get any restrictions on the global trade in endangered sharks specifically (and fish in general!). So it’s great news for sharks that the global community seems to have turned a corner in agreeing that steps need to be taken. There is, of course, more to do…

And one of the most obvious things is to crack down on the horrendous practice of shark finning. Shark finning is when sharks are intentionally or ‘accidentally’ caught (often in the process of fishing for tuna), and just their fins are harvested. Sorry, ‘harvested’ sounds quite reasonable. Finning a shark is frankly no different than shooting a rhino or an elephant to hack off its horns or tusks … and the market is similarly for an entirely pointless and unnecessary product. Shark fin soup has celebratory status as a dish, but by all accounts is rather tasteless, in both senses of the word.

The good news on shark finning is that public perception is turning here too. The European Union recently agreed a ban on shark finning, meaning sharks, if caught, have to be landed with fins intact. That might not be enough for some of you, but it’s a huge step in stamping out the finning business. There is more to do here of course, especially on the issue of demand for shark fin soup. So it’s encouraging to see New York become the third US state to ban the sale of shark fins. Some haulage companies are turning away shark fin as a cargo too. This is sending a powerful message, that finning is increasingly unacceptable, but there is a long way to go. That’s why our colleagues in New Zealand for example are campaigning hard right now to get their country to be next on the list to consign shark finning to history.

These steps forward in regulating the trade of sharks is happening hand-in-hand with a growing awareness of sharks, and their place in the ecosystem. Around the world, previously feared or persecuted shark populations have become tourist attractions. Great whites provide a powerful spectacle off South Africa, whilst the sunny (no, really) isles of the Scottish Hebrides are one of the best places in the world to get up close with giant basking sharks. Whale sharks draw the tourists in the Philippines and Gulf of Mexico, whilst the waters of the Maldives offer up spectacular manta rays. Coral reefs in the tropics support an array of life, of course, but sharks are undoubted crowd-pleasers there too. Of course, these need to be developed carefully and considerately, as with all eco-tourism ventures, to have the minimum impact possible on the star turns.

Is the tide turning in favour of sharks?As sharks are being increasingly valued alive, some governments are seizing the opportunity to invest in them. That’s where marine reserves come in. Some shark species may be oceanic wanderers, but many have preferred feeding or breeding grounds that can be protected. Where sharks are protected, such as in the Chagos Archipelago, or seas around Fiji, the effects are plain to see – with scientists recording thriving shark populations in these oceanic sanctuaries.

The future for sharks could be bright, but we need to do much more to help redress the balance of what we have done, and are still doing to them. If Shark Week has one take home message – it should be that.

Willie Mackenzie is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/shark-week/blog/46187/

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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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society recognises young ocean optimists with new award

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Nominations needed for the Young Ocean Optimist of the Year Award celebrating under 25s who have done something amazing to help our ocean

This year, the Marine Conservation Society is launching a brand new award to recognise incredible young people who go the extra mile to celebrate and protect the ocean. The winner of the award for under 25s will be announced at the charity’s online Annual Conference and AGM on 19th November 2020.

The Young Ocean Optimist of the Year Award has been set up to celebrate the achievements of young people who have worked tirelessly to protect, recover and celebrate the seas and wildlife around the UK coastline. The Marine Conservation Society encourages individuals to nominate any inspiring young person who uses their spare time to clean their local beach, raise awareness of threats to marine life, or shares their passion through research, art, social media, writing, walking or myriad other creative ways.

Sandy Luk, Chief Executive of the Marine Conservation Society said: “I’m so pleased to be able to recognise and celebrate the incredible young people around the UK whose passion for the ocean is limitless. I can’t wait to see all the nominations and learn about the amazing things that young people across the country are doing to explore, fundraise, raise awareness, protect and celebrate our blue heart. If you know an inspirational young person who has done any of those things, please nominate them now and shine a light on their brilliant work.”

Inka Cresswell, Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society and judge for the Young Ocean Optimist of the Year Award said: “There has never been a more important time for us to use our voices for the ocean. I believe we all have an incredibly important role to play in preserving these ecosystems for future generations but there are some individuals who have gone above and beyond, to ensure a brighter future for our ocean and its inhabitants. This award is a fantastic opportunity to highlight the work of young people, leading by example, and showing how one individual’s actions can turn the tide on Ocean Conservation.”

Nominations for the award will be shortlisted by a cross section of staff and volunteers from across the Marine Conservation Society. A top ten list of nominees will then be sent to the judging panel, which includes: Sandy Luk, CEO of the Marine Conservation Society; Mark Haviland, Vice Chair of MCS; Inka Cresswell, MCS Ocean Ambassador; Tara Proud, MCS Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager for Scotland and Hannah Birse, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

The winner will be decided by the judging panel, and announced live at the charity’s online Annual Conference and AGM on the evening of 19th November. Links to short videos (under 5 minutes), audio recordings (under 2 minutes) and social media or online articles/blogs are encouraged to be included in your nomination.

The deadline for nominations is 9am on Monday 19th October. To nominate someone, download the nomination form (here), and send to education@mcsuk.org.

For more information about the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.

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