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Marine Life & Conservation

Is the tide turning in favour of sharks?



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.

Marine Life & Conservation

Caribbean Conservation in Action: Tagging Turtles in the BVI



For centuries, the Japanese artisans have used hawksbill turtle shells to make a variety of trinkets such as eyewear, combs and cigar boxes. By the 1800’s, a fad had spread to the America’s and Europe to obtain hawksbill shells and green turtle soup had become a delicacy around the world. It wasn’t until the late 1970s when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates cross-border trade in wildlife banned the international commercial trade of sea turtles and in 1978, the United States banned the intentional killing of all sea turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

However, In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Japan tried to lift restrictions under CITES to reopen the trade of hawksbill turtle shells with Cuba. Because sea turtles are a regionally shared resource due to their highly migratory range over an individual’s lifetime, many Caribbean countries became concerned that Japan and Cuba’s proposal would undermine some of the long-standing conservation efforts that had already been implemented. This prompted the United Kingdom to launch the Turtles of the UK Overseas Territories (TCOT) project in 2001 to address critical gaps in the knowledge of marine turtle populations found in all their Caribbean territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Montserrat and Turks & Caicos Islands).

Although the BVI was already monitoring nesting leatherback sea turtles, this 3-year UK-funded project brought a new dimension to turtle monitoring to the BVI and other UK Territories. In-water turtle tagging of foraging populations commenced which identified healthy populations of juvenile to sub-adult (teenage) green and hawksbill turtles in the BVI. Through genetic sampling of those turtles tagged, green turtles were identified as coming from as far away as Ascension Island, Venezuela and Costa Rica with hawksbills coming from Brazil, Barbados, and Cuba. Subsequently, some of the tagged turtles have migrated from the BVI on to their adult foraging grounds and travelled as far as Nicaragua, Bonaire and Guadeloupe.

Although the TCOT project ended many years ago, in-water turtle tagging of foraging populations continued over the years. Now, with an extensive baseline of information and a growing need for changes in local sea turtle management, the BVI was awarded a Darwin Plus grant worth over US$300k from the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment & Climate Fund in June 2020. This newly implemented STEEL Project (Sustainable turtles, environments, economies & livelihoods) is aimed to ramp up tagging efforts to better understand changes in the status of BVI turtles based on nearly 20 years of data collected. Additionally, foraging turtle habitats will be assessed on how to build resiliency in areas that were impacted by the 2017 hurricane events. An educational programme to provide the community with a better local understanding of turtle conservation will be implemented and, using the MCS Community Voice Method (CVM) of engagement, the project will engage BVI communities to develop new legislation recommendations and a conservation action plan to safeguard BVI’s turtle populations for future generations.

The STEEL Project is being led by the Marine Conservation Society UK alongside local organisation, the Association of Reef Keepers (ARK) and partnerships with the BVI Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration. Additionally, local dive and tour operators such as Sail Caribbean Divers are participating in the project by providing boats and assisting local turtle scientists in capturing, tagging and releasing of sea turtles.

For more information see

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Marine Life & Conservation

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up



The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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