What ex­actly is “Giv­ing Back” about?

Action Asia - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

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.

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