What exactly is “Giving Back” about?
U N L I K E J U S T A B O U T EVERYWHERE else in Asia, Palau has a wealth of sharks. It became the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009, outlawing fishing them at all. It's also the best diving I've ever seen. I love sharks. I've dived in a dozen countries in the region, and everywhere else I struggle to find any sharks at all. I've seen a big change in the last decade. A guidebook once told me there should be schooling hammerheads near Cabilao Island, just off Bohol in the Philippines. Fair enough, over the course of the week I did spot a grey reef shark or two and white tips in the ad hoc fishing sanctuary there. But when I asked the Polish dive instructor where the hammerheads were, he had bad news. “Oh a bunch of fishermen came up here from Siquijor,” he said, an island just to the south that is supposed to be haunted by witches, wicked trolls known as the duwende, and the aswang, a winged flying werewolf/vampire combo. It is also notorious for its rapacious fishermen. “They spent a week here, and they caught all the hammerheads,” the instructor said. Local dive shops from nearby Panglao Island are hard at work to stop Siquijor and other local fishermen catching butanding – whale sharks – and mantas. Alive, a shark is worth more than US$170,000 in tourist dollars each year, Palau's president Tommy Remengesau Jr. says. That's nearly US$2 million over its lifetime. Dead, each sells for US$100 to a foreign poacher. Even in Palau, sharks come under attack from illegal Taiwanese pirate ships stealing into the waters. The country's 18-man marine police force has only one oceangoing speedboat, the Remeliik, donated by the Australian navy. The Aussies have “Given Back.” Amazingly, the Palauans track the pirates with the help of Skytruth, a nonprofit run 9,000 miles away in West Virginia by a data analyst, Bjorn Bergman. He is “Giving Back.” Even with satellite help they struggle to run the ships down before they head into Indonesian or Philippines waters, as depicted in a gripping story in The New York Times, “Palau vs. the Poachers” (www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/magazine/palauvs-the-poachers.html). Even when they do catch the deckhands, they're typically destitute, almost illiterate, and bedraggled. The Palau marine police often have to give them basic clothing like T-shirts. It's happened a few times that they've then caught the pirates on yet another illegal fishing trip, and they're wearing the same T-shirt. Sharks do have help in the form of Tova and Navot Bornovski, who run the dive shop Fish ‘n Fins in Palau (p. 26). They set up the Micronesian Shark Foundation in 2002, and give their time to conduct research with university scientists that has led to five scientific papers on Palau's sharks. They are Giving Back, the theme of this issue of Action Diver. We hear from The Reef-world Foundation about their Green Fins programme, which tracks the 10 most environmentally friendly dive shops out of the more than 400 they assess – see the list on p.6. On e o f t h o s e s h o p s is Scuba Junkie in Malaysia, which now has two resorts in Indonesia as well. Find out about their work to engage with a local green group and the Semporna community college on p. 10. Christina Hepburn met with a famed manta scientist and finally got to dive with her hero – she also tells us about the Evolution going on in Malapascua Island in the Philippines (p. 14). Find out how you can Give Back by reporting diving accidents and incidents from the Divers Alert Network (p. 22). PADI tells us how five dive shops in the region are making a difference (p.18). The rest of the issue gives practical information on planning your next dive trip, with a list of all the liveaboards in Asia, the best seasons to go, and plenty of dive shops to help you make a difference in a dive community. It takes effort to Give Back. I'll admit I don't do enough. I complain about shark fishing but aside from “donating” my dive dollars on trips, I do little else. But I'm inspired by the efforts of those in this issue. We hope you get inspired, too. Enjoy the read.
ON PATROL This grey reef shark is majestic as he eases through the sea, perhaps on the lookout for prey. But he should be on the lookout for us.