Wednesday, 7 September 2011

South Pacific leading the way in Shark Conservation (again!)

With news of AB376 passing in California, it's shaping up to be a positive year for shark conservation but while this news is of course, excellent, we must ensure the efforts from other, much smaller nations do not go unnoticed. Following hot on the heels of AB376, the tiny South Pacific nation of Tokelau has also announced a shark sanctuary covering the entirity of its economic territory.

Alongside Tokelau, the Marshall Islands (pictured above) are also on the brink of passing their own legislation to protect sharks which is really, quite amazing. These tiny South Pacific islands, which most would struggle to locate on a map, have been for some time now, working towards ways to protect their sharks. The Marshall Islands, if the law does indeed pass, along with Tokelau, will be joined by the likes of  Guam, Honduras, Chile, The Bahamas and of course my beloved Fiji, in taking positive and inclusive steps towards what will be a better world and they and their governments should be roundly applauded for their efforts.

A friend of mine suggested I should write to the Senator in The Marshall Islands to see if I could lend my (albeit tiny) voice to the cause from the perspective of someone on the other side of the planet who would one day, love to visit this beautiful piece of paradise to film and document their sharks so I did and thought I would share the letter with you, so, here it is.

Dear Senator Kabua,

My name is David Diley and I am a director and producer from the United Kingdom.  That the Marshall Islands is considering implementing laws for the protection of sharks is already an amazing thing. A great many larger and more powerful nations are doing too little to protect the world's sharks and the fact that the Island nations of the Pacific are, in many respects, leading the world on this vital matter is of great credit to their people.

Sharks are incredible animals on many levels and as a film-maker who focusses on the relationships between sharks and humans in different parts of the world, it fills me with hope that, as these stories progress and the world changes, often for the worse, the stories of these relationships are actually becoming more and more positive as nations around the world begin to appreciate the importance of their sharks.

Not only are sharks vital to healthy marine ecosystems, a balanced food chain and general marine health, they are also, as has been proved around the world, an enormously valuable asset to tourism. Divers all around the world will travel far and wide to locations where sharks are plentiful to have what may be a once in a lifetime experience with sharks both large and small.

I recently travelled to Fiji to shoot a film about the benefits of shark conservation and shark eco-tourism in a location where sharks were once plentiful before their numbers were decimated, destroying all life on the reef (Shark Reef) and how, when they were encouraged to return through the establishment of a specialised shark dive, the reef blossomed back to life. This shark eco-tourism brings in approximately three million Fijian dollars every year, creates job opportunities and training schemes and benefits a great many of the non-diving businesses with ancillary financial input from the tourists visiting the island to enjoy the shark dive. This sustainable and profitable industry is reliant upon healthy shark numbers and illustrates just one of the numerous benefits of having a protected shark population.

Every single healthy marine environment on the planet is balanced by it's localised shark population, without these sharks to ensure that balance and health, the quality of these environments would degrade rapidly, affecting everything within these habitats. In areas where tourism and sustainable indigenous fishing are vital parts of the economy, this degradation of marine environments would be catastrophic and have a direct influence upon the people who call these locations home.

The problem with industrialised fishing in shark rich marine environments is that once those sharks are gone, they are gone. The monetary value of a dead shark varies around the world with a median value of around only US$150 – 200. The estimated value of a single, live shark in Fiji, using the example above, is US$600,000. A dead shark can only be “used” once where a live shark can be “used” many thousands of times within it's lifespan and will also, if their habitat is protected, make more sharks to benefit the local economy.

Legislation to protect the sharks of The Marshall Islands would be of great benefit not just to The Marshall Islands but to the planet as a whole and would be welcomed by a great many people around the world and I look forward to the day when I can visit your islands and enjoy diving with your sharks myself!

I would like to thank you for considering legislation to protect your sharks and wish you and the people of The Marshall Islands great success for the future.

Sincerely yours,

David Diley
Producer & Director
From the Office to the Ocean

Simply writing an email is of course a mere drop in the ocean of the efforts that have gone into getting the protection of sharks in these areas to progress to the point where it is either being put into practice or faces a real prospect of happening. There is a small band of people out there working tirelessley to make these things happen, in particular people like Stefanie Brendl and the brilliant PEW. It doesn't take much to write an email or sign a petition, what these guys do is an often labourius and thankless task and I, for one, would like to offer my continued support and eternal gratitude for their ceaseless efforts in making our world a better place!

I also want to give my eternal thanks to the people of the countries listed above for going to great lengths to protect one of the things which means more to me than anything else in the world. You may be a world away but your efforts and foresight are making positive changes for everyone. Thank you.

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