Wednesday, 28 April 2010

First No Bus...

Good News is like public transport. You wait for ever for a bus and then two appear at once. Well, it happened like that for sharks this week. I have been holding off on writing a blog for a while as most of the shark conservation world has been hanging on to hear whether the Hawaiian Shark Fin law would be passed and today we received the news that yes the bill had passed with only one contrary 'no' vote from the original instigator of breaking the bill's passage a few weeks ago. No surprise there then.
Hawaii Shark Fin Ban bill - SB2169 now outlaws the posession, sale and distribution of shark fins in the state of Hawaii. This will hopefully send out a clear signal to other ocean nations who are capable of imposing such a measure of control over their ocean heritage.
Not only is this success a mark of intuition and bravery by Hawaiians who wish to protect their precious marine resources, it is also a demonstrative measure of the power of the internet, and how unified voices of shark advocates from around the globe united to bring a wave of support to help move this legislation through the senate. It would be wrong at this point to state immaturely that we had become 'an unstoppable force' or even something to be remotely 'reckoned with'. We are too close to coming out of the other side of the recent CITES disaster, and the thoughts that many of us held before and during the Doha conference, that the world 'had' to listen to us are too fresh in our minds.
Indeed, if anything, this Hawaiian victory is a perfect example of why CITES might never work as a convention for international conservation requirements. Many of the failures at CITES pointed to the fact that regional fisheries management plans should sway the control over regulations direly needed to protect sharks and other endangered species. Bill - SB2169 is a perfect example of how such local pressure, supported by global interest, can indeed sway the balance in our favour.

The second piece of good news to come whizzing into the inbox today was that Robin Culler's Shark Finatics have been nominated for Oceana's Ocean Hero award. Robin is a regular contributor to The Shark Group discussion board where we get regular updates about her students, who make a big deal about shark conservation in their class studies. You can join the Shark Finatics facebook page, and take a look at their nomination and other nominees at Oceana's voting page here.

Unfortunately, it was not all good news this week, as a fishing vessel with 100 blue sharks on board were captured in the Galapagos National Park. It was the second time this vessel had been intercepted in Galapagos waters. Once question. Why is it still floating?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A publication in Ecuador.

If anyone is flying on the TAME airline this month you can see some of my images illustrating an article written by my friend Jorge Antonio Mahuad. Jorge's family own the Tip Top fleet in the Galapagos Islands and Jorge spends his time between the islands and their offices in Quito. Jorge is the communications director for Tip Top operations, and despite his young age is an astute and well versed professional in the business world and lends more than a passing ear to conservation concerns for the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. I don't usually give my images away, but this time I was happy to donate them to Jorge's work as I know that the future of places like Ecuador lies in the hands of brilliant young men like Jorge.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Take a deep breath...

It is with some trepidation that I poke my head above the parapet to write this blog. The dust is beginning to settle after CITES and everyone's thoughts are starting to clear. The more cynical of the NGO's have dried their faux tears whilst the more astute peer out from their locked studies for a break from their already half drawn battle plans for the next phase. What prompts me to write today of all days is that in my mail this morning was a post by my friend and shark hero Wolfgang Leander alerting his followers to this blog. It is a well written and well researched piece, and everyone should go and read it. I have to say that the tone of the piece hits the nail squarely on the head. The most surprising aspect to the article is a link to a video by Oceana which must surely be the most discraceful piece of conservation PR I have ever seen (and I used to be a fan..shame on you Oceana...(but more of that later)).

Somewhere between 1781 and 1785 Thomas Jefferson asked "What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypoctrites". He was talking about christianity back then, but the words apply equally today, particularly aptly to the lobbying of delegates at CITES. But who are the real fools? Are the conservation protagonists at fault in the first place for believing that there could ever really be hope in conservation goals at a convention dealing with trade in species? Personally, and I hesitate to say it, there is too much hippy idealism working within the conservation sphere. Take the Oceana video. A girl that can be little older than a graduate, she may at a push be post doctorate, paints a quaint picture of her personal and corporate dispair at the pro-conservation failure at CITES. She drops a failed simile in the name of science (I'm sorry...10 million kilograms of shark fins is how many elephants??!!) whilst her colleagues cackle in the background, sounding very sippy champagny. Sorry again Oceana but if your delegates did have a "really exhilarating and really exhausting day" shouldn't they be too tired for that?). What is needed desperately in this realm are hardened negotiators. The Oceana party (excuse the pun) should have been made up of experienced and hairy looking scientists, (or better still, field researchers), who can hold court with their commercial counterparts. In the corporate world, would you send a post-grad to broker a multi million pound merger, or your top honcho who cuts heads of in her coffee break? (Yes, women can be hairy too).

Before degrees became so dissapointingly de rigeur, the way you learned your skill was as an apprentice. It was impossible to jump up the ranks just because you were fortunate enough to be able to afford a few more years of education and earn a degree. I was speaking to a retired professional a few days ago who told me that a non negotiable prerequisite back when he was climbing the corporate ladder, to enter middle management was that you had to be forty five years old and not one day less. Sure, society has realised since then that if you are 45 you still might be stupid, but we have failed to hold dear the value of essential experience. We know without question that the future of our planet lies with the younger generation, but to hand the torch to student negotiators is far too permature, and just a little more than pinky quaint. How could we have improved the experience for delegates at CITES? An impromptu performance of high school musical, or a reasoned debate with a sunburned fifty something with bugs in his beard?

So what do we do next? If there is one message that should be adhered to post-CITES, it is that the emphasis on regional fisheries management agencies should be taken very seriously, and is the field where battles will be won. I have long said that there is a huge disparity between dive centre operators and real conservation initiatives, and who should be more passionate about their local maritime health and wellbeing than the network of local dive operators utilising it? There is a fine example of this going on right now in Hawaii where stalwart shark advocate Stephanie Brendl is rallying support for important local legistalation that will, if successful provide a precedent for global shark conservation initiatives.

I remember back a few years when attending DEMA and conversing with what we thought were a leading global shark conservation NGO: "well oh yes we know Ecuador has a terrible problem with shark fishing, here "take some leaflets". The feeling that I had been betrayed in that moment has never left me. Leaflets. LEAFLETS!! I can just imagine the next board meeting for that NGO. "Oh yes we are now 'in Ecuador'".

Things have moved on for my collueagues and I in Ecuador. We are now operating our own science based research, supported by doers, not talkers, from around the world and this year, we became Save Our Seas grant holders to continue our work there. We are fighting our corner, but we need our own hardened delegates to support us on the world stage. We should take a lesson from the Japanese, who practice a British political trait observed back in 1824 by historian and politician Thomas Babington: "The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion".

Friday, 2 April 2010

Great White Dive Record

The scientifically ubiquitous great white shark has appeared in the media again, this time with a dive recorded at over 1200 metres. Previous recorded max depths were around 1000 metres, so this record off of New Zealand is a considerable extension to that. You can read the full article here.