Giv­ing teeth to shark pro­tec­tion

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Story by Gregg Yan, founder, Best Al­ter­na­tives cam­paign

I RE­MEM­BER THAT MORN­ING CLEARLY. DIVE BUDDY Maia and I were among the first to back-roll onto Tub­bataha’s co­ral-coated walls, de­scend­ing 10m to await the rest of our team. From the blue shot in a green sea tur­tle. Big male, ev­i­denced by its long, fat tail. It seemed to be in a hurry. I was get­ting my Go­pro ready when my en­tire field of vi­sion trans­formed into a shark. Maybe 5m away. Things slowed down and my first re­ac­tion was, “Why doesn’t this whale shark have spots?” Oh. Tiger shark. That day, I re­al­ized that div­ing with sea tur­tles or gaz­ing at bowrid­ing dol­phins is cool – but go­ing fin-to-fin with a shark? Sheer, pri­mal panic and won­der. In equal amounts. Ev­ery time. Shark en­coun­ters are ac­tu­ally fairly rare in the Philip­pines, de­spite the coun­try be­ing a top dive des­ti­na­tion and a ma­jor bas­tion of life in the Co­ral Tri­an­gle. Sci­en­tists have recorded 95 of the world’s 465 shark species here, rang­ing from gen­tle giants like whale sharks to tiny bam­boo cat­sharks col­lected for the marine aquar­ium trade. A rare 5m great white shark even washed ashore in the north­east­ern Philip­pines in Jan­uary this year, it seems the first time the species was pho­tographed lo­cally. Loved by few and feared by many, sharks have taken a nose­dive in pop­u­la­tion due to hunt­ing, coastal degra­da­tion and a huge re­duc­tion in the stocks of prey fish like sar­dines and mack­erel. “To ensure the fu­ture of our oceans, we must pro­tect all lev­els of the ecosys­tem – from pri­mary pro­duc­ers to top preda­tors,” Sally Snow, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Large Marine Ver­te­brates Re­search In­sti­tute, ex­plains. “Top preda­tors like

sharks can only ex­ist if the food chain be­low is thriv­ing, but they also play a key role in main­tain­ing the bal­ance and bio­di­ver­sity of an ecosys­tem. When we pro­tect top preda­tors, we’re also tak­ing steps to pro­tect the en­tire ecosys­tem.” You will be lucky to find fins through most of the Philip­pines. Still, there are a few notable marine sanc­tu­ar­ies where divers and sharks can meet. The once-sleepy town of Don­sol in south­ern Lu­zon hosts hun­dreds of the spot­ted giants. Skin divers can in­ter­act with as many as 10 dif­fer­ent sharks in three hours. Its en­vi­ron­men­tal ethos sits in stark con­trast to the highly-con­tro­ver­sial town of Os­lob in south­ern Cebu, where ju­ve­nile whale sharks are cor­ralled and reg­u­larly fed with shrimp. This al­ters their nat­u­ral be­hav­ior but en­sures “good self­ies” for tourists. Mala­pas­cua in north­ern Cebu is famed for its pelagic thresher sharks, which re­sem­ble grace­ful wraiths glid­ing in and out of the blue. Thresher sharks have spe­cially-shaped, scythe-like tails used to stun prey such as squid or sar­dines. They reg­u­larly stop by a 24m-deep dive site called Monad Shoal to let cleaner wrasses pick their bod­ies clean of par­a­sites. The Tub­bataha Reefs in Palawan house the coun­try’s most-fa­mous dive sites, and are the coun­try’s best-man­aged and pro­duc­tive shal­low-wa­ter reef. Tub­bataha is known for Shark Air­port, where whitetip and grey reef sharks “take off and land” like pon­der­ous, sway­ing Air­buses. Lucky divers might also see a cu­ri­ous ham­mer­head or two ap­proach­ing the wall. The Philip­pines also has deep-sea co­ral reefs like Ben­ham Bank. This is the top­most por­tion of the Philip­pine Rise, a largely un­ex­plored, yet un­pro­tected 24-mil­lion-hectare un­der­sea plateau in the north­east corner of the coun­try. In 2016, sci­en­tists dropped some Baited Re­mote Un­der­wa­ter Video Sys­tems, and scored live video of an adult tiger shark hav­ing lunch at 45m. Catch­ing and killing sharks inside the pro­tected ar­eas of the Philip­pines is il­le­gal, af­ford­ing sharks some se­cu­rity. How­ever, only 14 species – the great white, bask­ing, whale, oceanic whitetip, silky, plus all species of thresher, saw and ham­mer­head sharks – are pro­tected na­tion­ally. The re­main­ing 81 species are still caught for meat, medicine, plus the pet and cu­rio trades. Dried shark jaws are still sold as smelly, grisly sou­venirs – please avoid them. With a l itt l e luck, s hark c onser v at i on­ists i n t he coun­try could soon have jaws. The Shark, Ray and Chi­maera Con­ser­va­tion Act aims to pro­tect not just the coun­try’s 95 shark species, but all lo­cal species of shark, ray and chi­maera. “The pro­posed act will strengthen the en­force­ment of laws for cur­rently-pro­tected species, while cov­er­ing all re­main­ing sharks, rays and chi­maeras,” Save Sharks Net­work’s Vince Cinches notes. “Sharks are eco­log­i­cally and cul­tur­ally valu­able but re­main vul­ner­a­ble to a wide range of threats,” he adds, be­ing caught di­rectly, or as by­catch, es­pe­cially from the tuna in­dus­try. Other prob­lems in­clude marine de­bris, habi­tat de­struc­tion, weak law en­force­ment and un­reg­u­lated shark tourism. Cinches en­cour­ages divers to en­cour­age oth­ers, and avoid buy­ing shark prod­ucts such as fins, sou­venirs and meat. Con­sumers should act with their feet. By avoid­ing es­tab­lish­ments that serve such prod­ucts, trade will suf­fer. Cit­i­zens in the Philip­pines can tell law­mak­ers that they want the law passed by sign­ing the Shark, Ray and Chi­maera Con­ser­va­tion Act on­line. The Save Sharks Net­work brings to­gether en­vi­ron­men­tal non­prof­its like Green­peace Philip­pines, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philip­pines, Save Philip­pine Seas and other shark-lov­ing groups. Through your par­tic­i­pa­tion, we can con­serve the in­tegrity of marine ecosys­tems. By ex­pand­ing species pro­tec­tion, we all aim to swim with far more than 14 species of sharks, and far more of those, when we dive in the Philip­pines. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and diver Gregg Yan is be­hind Best Al­ter­na­tives, a move­ment to per­suade con­sumers and in­vestors to switch to sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tives to wildlife prod­ucts, like us­ing mush­rooms to re­place shark fins in Chi­nese restau­rants.

FINNED FINDS Whale sharks or bu­tand­ing, once hunted, mi­grate through the Philip­pines, and are one of 14 species pro­tected at least in law.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.