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Marine Life & Conservation

UK Blues – are sharks being stressed out in the name of science or to make a few quid from tourists?

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I was recently invited to a Blue Shark diving day in the UK. I am being a bit vague about where because my article really is a generic one and not aimed at anyone specifically.

UK Blues 6

The day started with laying out a trail of chum as we drifted. In this ‘scent trail’ the skipper set a line and baited hook for catching a shark with the intent of bringing it on board, showing the guests, taking measurements for research statistics and then letting it go.

Over the years as a TV wildlife filmmaker I have come across many such trips of which some are good and others really bad. Sometimes the quest for good research and care for the animals is diminished behind the need to make each trip pay financially by entertaining guests with a ‘shark experience’.

It was not long before the first shark was hooked and being played alongside the boat. A few of the guest divers were quickly in the water in the hope of seeing the shark swim past. Having tried to dive deep to safety, the shark, now nearing total exhaustion fights with the last of its energy, twisting and thrashing against the line holding it. For me this is a very sad sight and I know at least two of the divers left the water close to tears. At the same time, others thought this was great excitement.

UK Blues 1

UK Blues 3Getting wrapped in the line during this period can be harmful to the shark as well as increasing the time for lactic acid to build up in the muscle tissue which is one of the contributors to the inability of the shark to recover when released. Ideally the shark should be brought in as quickly as possible and so released the same.

UK Blues 5

UK Blues 7It was hauled by the hook and line over the side of the boat where a hose pipe was immediately pushed into its mouth to give a flow of water through its gills in order to help keep the shark alive while measurements were taken and people held the shark in their arms for a photo.

The internal skeleton of a shark is made of cartilage and connective tissue making the shark very flexible and light. The shark has no rib cage, so when it is on land its own weight can literally crush its internal organs. Hence the longer it is on the deck the more damage is done. Also when pulling a shark up and over the side of the boat, the internal organs are pulled by gravity to the lower end of the body. Generally it is far better not to bring any shark on board that is over a meter in length.  Any science such as measuring and tagging should be done in the water when ever possible.

If it is necessary to bring a shark aboard then the technique recommended by many marine biologists is to use a sling at the side of the boat bringing the fish alongside and into it. Then lift it horizontally and gently onto the deck. I have done this myself and found it to be very workable and this method decreases the stress and strain on the shark. This sling can then be used to lower the shark back into the water.

At this stage there should be no reason to keep it out of the water for more that a few minutes. I have talked to shark biologists about the practice of putting the hose in its mouth and continually flushing the gills. The over-riding opinion is that this is not a good idea, or necessary, as it is likely to damage the gill tissues and so severely reduce the shark’s ability to recover. However, others are convinced that this hose pipe action does work and is necessary.

UK Blues 4

Finally the shark was released and lowered back into the water where it finned slowly while sinking out of sight into the depths. Did it live or die? We don’t know. The general consensus from the majority of marine biologists is that the rate of survival is good when care is taken to keep the shark free from over stress and physical damage.

We will forever debate the pros and cons of various opinions on how best to carry out our shark research, while at the same time, caring for the welfare of the individual animals. But in the end, it is the sharks who are paying the terrible price of pain and annihilation. To me we are simply recording statistics of the shark’s demise.

I sat on the boat after the shark was released and found myself gazing at all the incredible technology that lay in front of me. Diving equipment that allows us to explore the underwater world, computers that keep us safe from decompression, clever materials that keep us warm and dry. In the wheelhouse, the navigation equipment, the radar, the depth profilers, the coffee machine. Yet, with all this, we still find the need to put a hook into a shark’s mouth, drag it from the sea and possibly kill it all in the name of science and research. In many ways the human race has come a long way forward from the days of kill or be killed, but at the same time we seem to have kept one foot firmly in our primitive past.

So what do you think? Is it worth stressing out this magnificent creatures in this way to gain scientific research, or is the risk to their health just too high? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jeff Goodman is the Conservation editor and also the Underwater Videography Editor for Scubaverse.com. Jeff is an award winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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

Join Reef-World’s sustainability webinar at the first ever Scuba.Digital

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Reef-WorldJoin Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world.

 The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is pleased to invite its supporters to its Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020 (3pm BST on Friday 23 October 2020). At this virtual Q&A, members of the public will hear from industry leaders about the steps they’re taking towards sustainability, particularly in light of the current pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed plans and caused uncertainty across the dive industry: not least when it comes to sustainability. It has also led to a surge in the volume of plastic waste – particularly from single-use and hard-to-recycle products – with masks and gloves being found washed up on beaches. So, what now for green tourism? In this session, attendees will discover the unexpected environmental challenges that have been caused by the pandemic, how sustainability leaders are overcoming those obstacles and the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

Reef-World and the United Nations Environment Programme will host a lively virtual discussion with PADI, Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet, Scuba.Digital, Paralenz, ZuBlu and Bubbles Dive Centre. Together, they will talk about how the sustainability of the diving industry has been impacted by Covid-19 and predictions for the future of green tourism. Attendees will learn:

  • Why is coral so important and how they can be protected through sustainable diving practices
  • What sustainability leaders across the industry are doing to protect coral reefs
  • And how they’ve adjusted their plans in light of the current pandemic
  • What the future of sustainable tourism might look like, according to the expert panel
  • & the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

The panel discussion will be available to watch on the Scuba.Digital main stage at 3-3.30pm and 4-4.30pm BST (with a short break in between the two sessions) on Friday 23 October 2020. Attendees will be able to submit their own questions to the panel too.

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Reef-World’s sustainable diving events have been gaining momentum in previous years so we’re delighted to be able to host this exciting panel event despite current travel restrictions. While the pandemic is causing challenges across the industry, it also offers the opportunity for us to pause, regroup and plan to build back better with a more sustainable tourism industry. We must act now to protect our coral reefs – the very asset upon which our industry depends – and we must work together. So, we’re thrilled to be shining a light on the future of sustainability and help both recreational and professional divers around the world understand how they can support the cause.”

Natalie Harms, Marine Litter Focal Point, COBSEA Secretariat, UNEP – who will be chairing the event – said: “This crisis is hitting marine tourism and the people who depend on it hard. It has showed us once more that our health and the health of our ecosystems are inextricably linked. There is no silver lining for nature – now more than ever the diving community can lead by example and join hands for a sound environmental response to the crisis.”

The 2020 panel represent a range of companies who are innovating when it comes to sustainability:

Reef-World – the leader in marine tourism sustainability – aims to make sustainable diving and snorkelling the social norm.

The UN Environment Programme – the leading authority setting the global environmental agenda, which provides technical advice, support and funding for Reef-World’s Green Fins programme

Scuba.Digital – run by the team at ScubaClick Ltd – was created to help the diving industry network, collaborate and innovate in a way that won’t be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

PADI – The world’s largest diving organisation made a proclamation for the planet in 2019: shifting its brand tagline to “Seek Adventure. Save the Ocean” in order to expand its mission to include a deeper commitment to taking action to protect people and planet.

Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet – is enhancing environmental operations through a customised management strategy, starting with its Caribbean vessels. It is also helping The Reef-World Foundation establish targeted liveaboard protocols as part of the Green Fins initiative with the hope of improving dive operator and liveaboard policies worldwide.

ZuBlu – is a travel platform helping scuba divers and marine enthusiasts discover and book their next underwater adventure in Asia

Paralenz – has developed a camera that enable divers to capture and share the state and life of the Ocean as a seamless part of the dive

Bubbles Dive Centre – in Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia, is one of the global Top 10 Green Fins members.

This online panel event is relevant to representatives from all segments of the diving industry: recreational divers, dive professionals, dive operators, liveaboards, resorts, travel providers, diver training organisations, manufacturers, photographers, the media and more.

Jason Haiselden, Marketing & Sales Director at ScubaClick Ltd and Scuba.Digital, said: “It is great that Reef-World has grabbed the opportunity that Scuba.Digital presents to tell the industry and the diving and snorkelling public how they can make what we do more sustainable. Covid is forcing change upon us so why not take the opportunity to make sustainable changes.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org / www.greenfins.net or come and meet The Reef-World Foundation team at Scuba.Digital.

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