There are many motivating articles, scientific papers and blogs that prove how amazing and valuable sharks are! So why is this message still not getting across? And why are sharks still not valued and seen as a vital component to sustain our current environment by the general public?
The big question - Why is there is no urgency to save sharks?
I believe it comes down to what affects us personally. If sharks go extinct why does this matter to non-divers and to ‘Bob’ who lives in Coventry and rarely visits the oceans? Well apart from the depletion of sharks resulting in the loss of commercially important fish species (yes that includes that lovely fish and chips you had last night!), numerous scientific findings have also shown that the loss of sharks would impact the survival of mankind! Dramatic sentence, yes, but to the point and true.
Lets look at the facts;
Sharks as an apex predator, play a very important role in our oceans. By keeping the species below them in the food chain in check and maintaining competition, sharks ensure species diversity thrive. Sharks take the lead keeping our largest and most important ecosystem (the ocean) healthy. This ecosystem controls the planets temperature and weather, provides 1/3 of our world with food, removes half of the atmospheres anthropogenic carbon dioxide, and produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined. Pretty important! But why aren’t we being told this?*
I have been very lucky to work closely with shark experts Fernando Reis and Manuela Domingues from Shark Educational Institute (SEI) this week at Freestyle divers, UAE, to create a tailored shark workshop specific to the local species of Blacktip Reef Sharks. This workshop involves educating divers about sustainable diving practices around these amazing creatures, identifying behavioural habits and using different techniques to record valuable information for future Citizen-Science. But I believe the most important part of the workshop is to get the message across, why sharks matter.
During the preparation for the workshop most discussions focused on our diving experiences around the world with different species of shark (there are over 500 species by the way 😊) but taking a pause from these stories, we sat down to discuss why most of the world do not respect, admire and understand the importance of sharks as we do. And to answer my question, why is there is no urgency to save sharks?
From his experience Fernando explained that there was a lack of communication in different areas. Firstly, between research sciences and the Environmentalists community, but also the communication to the rest of the world. The technical language sometimes used by scientists can isolate the public, which in turn leads to them closing off to the subject, thus the message is lost. To get people to care and listen a certain amount of marketing skills are needed, which unfortunately, most scientists do not possess.
We also touched on the subject of trends, even within our line of work. 20 years ago, the job title ‘Ecologist’ was held at high esteem, now it’s ‘Conservationist’. I would class myself as a ‘Conservationist’ so this is not an attack on Conservationists, Ecologists or Environmentalists, they do a fantastic job and work exceptionally hard to protect and preserve. The issue is the title, ‘Conservationist’. We are at a point where conservation is too late, we are now in the period of recovery.
So much doom and gloom but is there a solution? Whilst the current future for sharks is bleak and evidently ours too, I believe there is also hope. Organisations like Shark Educational Institute (SEI) are using the tactic of education in the form of workshops to share vital information about the importance of sharks. These workshops are tailored and created to link in with their specific audience’s needs and in each specific environment. For example, educating fishermen as to why they should help look after sharks. First you need to listen to them and hear their problems instead of enforcing rules, think like them and then we can help them come up with a solution. They must want to care, not be forced. Also working in schools to educate the next generations has proven to have a huge impact in family dynamic and how they change their consumption choices to be more sustainable.
Governments and media also have an important role to play in the recovery of shark population but that is a whole other blog.
Overall people must want to care and unfortunately to care it must affect them. Us shark lovers know and understand how vital sharks are, but this message needs to go further!