GENTLE JAWS

I’ve never seen the movie Jaws, and for those of you who have I recommend you to disregard everything about that movie. Shark Week is another one of those things that just bothers me because it puts sharks in such bad light and portrays them as such vile, man eating creatures which they SO are not. Sharks are mainly killed off by us, and by us I mean humans. On average 100 million, let me say that again 100 MILLION sharks are killed around the world every year. Not every few years but EVERY year. Imagine at the end of the year 100 million humans perish. Not to get gruesome but go a little further and imagine some of their limbs get sold in mass markets in China and Japan at large quantities. Our fingers get used for the infamous ‘Human Finger Soup’ just like the Shark Fin Soup. Would you want this? Yeah I don’t either. So why do we think it’s okay to do it to the most important creature roaming our oceans? Why do we support companies and business’ that exploit this kind of “tradition”. And yes you can have the argument that it’s a tradition BUT, just because it’s a tradition does not mean it’s okay. The state of our oceans is more important than if your great great great great great grandfather was doing this as his way of life and his way of making money. But I must say, it’s time to change. There are so many other ways to make money through tourism without the harm of hurting the top predator in the underwater ecosystem. 

The fishermen who have the boats and the knowledge of the oceans can use that to their advantage and take people out to explore the oceans and to surf breaks or free dive locations. Really just use the resources they have to use for tourism instead of killing. But it all gets based on money. Money runs everything and the men who employ the fishermen to do their dirty jobs aka kill sharks, some endangered sharks in international waters on small fishing boats get near to nothing in pay. It’s absolutely insane. Those fishermen deserve better pay and a better job that impacts the planet and oceans in a positive way. If you’re interested in more information on this or would like to go on a trip with these fishermen so they can make money off tourism instead of killing, check out Project Hiu and Madison Stewart. You’ll be inspired a whole lot.

I spent about two months on the south coast of the main island of Fiji studying shark conservation through an organization called Projects Abroad. It wasn’t just about diving in beautiful clear waters. We did a lot of dirty work. Monday’s were mangrove days. We would go out into the field and collect mangroves that had been uplifted out of the ground from high tides or storms and bring them back to our nursery where we care for them until they’re ready to be planted back into the wild. The nursery was a lot of work, a lot of good work though! Always weeding it and cleaning out the dead ones. We tested different salinities of water to see what’s the best for our little mangroves and what they thrive on. We had two different types of mangroves that we worked with and did salinity tests on. Testing to see which type of mangrove did better in certain areas with a certain salinity of water. Mangroves are such an important part of the ecosystem for a few reasons. Deep into the mangroves is where sharks can safely reproduce- although sharks do not mate here- and where the pups can safely live for the first couple years of their life. The mangroves act as a protective ground for the pups as they’re small enough to find their way through the thick roots of the mangroves. Not only do mangroves act as a nursery for sharks but they protect islands and coastlines from tsunamis and hurricanes. The dense root systems of the mangrove forests help stabilize the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storms. Compared to areas where the mangroves have been cleared, the damage is so much more severe and intense. 

Along with tending to and planting mangroves we would do BRUV drops, survey dives and head out on a tiny dingy and tag sharks for more research. Not full grown sharks either, just cute little juvenile sharks. We would drop down tuna heads attached to long ropes and weight it down with a cement cylinder block and a buoy. Wait an hour or two sitting in the hot sun eating loads of fruit and letting our toes hang off the boat in the water. On sunny, bright, beautiful days we would jump off the boat into the clear waters to cool off. After some time relaxing we would go back, pull up the cinder block and check the tuna head to see if we tricked a little shark. Unfortunately whilst I was there we never caught any sharks, but on my last drop I did manage to catch a beautiful blue grey Octopus. Still very helpful information and data that we took down. Even days when we didn’t catch anything that data was still just as useful as days when we did. We learned exactly how to tag these sharks and why we tag them etc. Following where sharks birth their pups and where sharks spend the first couple years of their lives is extremely important to their wellbeing. We can track them and basically follow their every movement from where they eat and roam to where they migrate. We can also figure out what their eating as they grow by taking a tiny tiny sample from their dorsal fin (don’t worry, they don’t feel any pain in the upper region of their dorsal fin). The marine biologist who worked with us on site -Millie- showed us the ropes and how to do everything. She was also the one to actually tag the sharks and take samples to be recorded. 

My favorite day was our survey dive days. Starting your day off in the ocean witnessing all these colorful fish and turtles and sharks in complete peace. Not bothered by anything it seemed, they were as graceful as ever. It’s near impossible to describe the feeling of seeing a shark totally naturally and not brought in by bait or a fake seal. To prepare for survey dives we had to take a fish test and know every single fish, ray, shark and turtle that we’d see. Since all of this data we were collecting was going to be sent off to a Marine Biologist/Scientist in Australia. We were tested about two weeks after arriving so we could get right into business. After my first survey dive and seeing a 1.5 meter long blacktip reef shark just a few meters away gave me chills and a whole new perspective on the ocean and the creatures that live in our underwater world. On some of those days we would do BRUV drops aka, Baited Remote Underwater Video. The BRUV drop days were the most important, and stressful. Making sure the go pro was on was a very very important aspect as well, if that wasn’t on then we failed getting that information and all the hard work was basically a waste. We would smash sardines for the BRUV drops and you have no idea how stinky that was and boy oh boy did our clothes reek after a few hours of doing that. The smell even reached into my hair that I had pulled back into a bun. But I must say it was all worth it, even siting in front of a computer for a couple hours waiting to see some beautiful creatures appear and glide across the screen from the footage of our BRUV drops.

We would also have days where we would record all the data collected that week, along with surveys we would do in local villages asking the locals if they’ve ever seen a shark, eaten shark, been scared of them and then we would inform them how important sharks are to our oceans, ecosystems and our planet as a whole. We would interview anyone we saw walking down the road and knock on houses asking if we could interview them, letting them know what our organization is about and what they can do to help. We took all this information again and put it into an organized spread sheet to record and keep track of for further and future use. 

Every single thing we did in this project related back to shark conservation. Whether it was about raising awareness and recording data on land or in sea. The importance of sharks for our planet is much greater than anything else. It’s always good to remember how everything is connected. One impact on something big or small will have an even larger impact on something even greater than what was done. 

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