Sunday, 21 February 2010

Will mantas disappear before sharks?


When you work in conservation, you get used to seeing the things you love being broken. A part of you hardens, and it becomes an everyday part of your life that you will see environmental destruction. You begin to feel less emotional every time you see a shark pulled onto a beach to make a bowl of soup. Your head hurts less when you see a line of trees cut down to make way for a road, or a giant hole bored into the heart of a rainforest to make a new oil well.
You have to harden up at the thin end of the wedge. It’s not a case of not caring; it’s a case of surviving. If I went every day feeling so desperate about the state of our oceans, like the first time I filmed unborn sharks being cut from their mother’s bellies, I would have shrivelled up and locked myself away from it all, or at least gone and got myself a boring job in an office somewhere and pretended it wasn’t happening.
Once it was hard to see just one dead shark, then it took twenty dead sharks to get me angry, and now, I can look at a line of a hundred shark hacked up on a beach, and although the sight will always disturb me, I know that out there, miles from me, there are people who care, who read our words, cry our tears, donate, write letters, get angry, frustrated and eventually become the movement that changes the world.
You could say that we form the thin end of the wedge. We drive ourselves forward and bring you the news so that you can form and disseminate your own ideas on how to tackle the problem. In doing so you become the thick end of the wedge; the part that finishes the job that the thin end started; the part that wedges open doors in high office until someone in a suit gives in; the part that cracks congress or parliament wide open; the part that gets the ink on the statute book; the part that won’t let the door slam until the job is done.

Back in 2004 I sat bewildered on a beach watching thick-set fishermen haul sharks out of the pacific in numbers that we were sure were not sustainable. We had no idea then that there was a movement beginning world-wide to bring attention to a global demand for shark fin soup. We felt hopeless, but resolute. Many of us dotted about the globe stayed into the early hours of each night tapping out emails and ideas; we began networking to bring down the giant. Our thin ended wedge grew in many of the right places, and we initiated a momentum that probably none of us thought possible. Although today there is still a long way to go for shark conservation, there is no doubt that we have made important progress.
It seems though, that the destructive nature of mankind is some way ahead of us. Back in the spring of 09, a report emerged stating how a drop in supply of shark fins meant that buyers were looking to mobulids to fill the supply gap to the fin market. It is normal for me to look into the media looking glass and sniff hard for the faint scent of alarmism in everything I read, and I guess it is a form of self protection that raises a cynical ear to every bad word written in the press. But, it looks like on this occasion that the bad news is correct and that there is a concerted drive to target mantas and mobula rays. For the first time in Ecuador this year, worrying photos have begun emerging of numbers of mobula on the beaches, and this morning in my email, I received word from a contact showing photos of fishermen in Mozambique with significant numbers of mobula and manta rays in gill nets.
The Mozambique fishery has been going on for some time, but an increase in activity seems to be developing. It seems that these latest developments are a worrying confirmation that manta fisheries will step up a gear and that we may be facing the destruction of populations of these most docile and majestic marine giants. As with sharks, reproduction rates are slow, birth numbers are low (only one per pregnancy). The worrying aspect though, is that populations are not large. Even today, the numbers of sharks caught stands at millions per year. Manta Ray populations do not even slightly reach these proportions and could be wiped out very quickly.
In Mozambique, respected researchers and tourism operators are looking out on an ocean with an uncertain future. They are probably bewildered and utterly distraught at the events unfolding around their family of manta rays. The thin end of the wedge has formed once again, new battle lines are being drawn in the sand. We must grow as a global community to help. We must drive our purpose home and ensure that the door does not slam on the mantas of Mozambique.

Click here if you want to keep informed on developments in this campaign.

1 comment:

Matthias said...

Very well spoken! That's the way I feel too....You really need a big shild or all this bad news will eventually drive you crazy, even me, one who is by no means working in that field, just very interested and concernd. However, despite all hardening up, since a couple of years I can't watch the ocean any more without that troubling feeling in my guts that large parts of our race have not the slightest idea how bad it actually stands for ours oceans...I guess as long as people can't and don't have to see whats going on underneath that eversince alike looking surface, they won't bother.