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When was the last time you sang or danced, wholeheartedly, like a child?

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As young explorers, we usually pride ourselves on our enthusiasm but the young South Africans we met today really took it to the next level. Kids from local townships greeted us at the beach with a cheerful chant and a dance before asking us to join in. We were all surprised and reluctant to make a fool of ourselves (apart from Chris) at first but we soon got into the groove.

These children face difficult situations in their homes including violence and sexual abuse, yet the smiles on their faces became contagious. The afternoon we spent with them was a reality check for a lot of us because we sometimes complain about small things at home.

Together we spent several hours collecting rubbish on the beach in the morning. Straws, plastic bags and condoms were among the many things we found in the sand. In total, we filled about 20 rubbish bags full of things that could have ended up in the water.

Although we went to the beach with the intention of teaching the kids about picking up rubbish to keep our oceans clean, we left with a deeper message. No matter how tough life can get, a smile always goes far.

HOW LONG RUBBISH TAKE TO DECOMPOSE?

STRAW: Up to 200 years

LOLLYPOP STICK: 150 years

LIGHTERS: 100 years

CIGARETTE BUTT: 2 years

PLASTIC BAG: 150 years

BOTTLE CAP: 30 years

PLASTIC BOTTLE: From 100 to 1000 years

NEWSPAPER: 1 year

ALUMINIUM CANS: 10 years

CONDOMS: 6 months to 4 years

GLASS: 4000 years

POLYSTYRENE: 1000 years

 

By Shaya Laughlin & Andrea Lavarello

“Fish are friends, not food”

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa with Mike Horn . Diving.

My ears perked up at the sound of conversation nearby and forcefully opened my eyes. Could it be 6am already? It felt like I had just gone to bed. I was feeling nervous, a little apprehensive and excited. Today was a much anticipated day. Freshly qualified as an open water diver, this would be the first time I would officially dive, and we would be diving with sharks. Wow.

I swallowed down a quick breakfast, loaded my bag with gear and off we went. Looking up through the windscreen I gazed at droplets falling from the threatening skies. The chill in the air and ominous clouds didn’t really calm my nerves.

We arrived at the Dive Shop, suited up in thick neoprene, and made our way to the dive site. Previously known as Pyramid Rock, the renowned Shark Alley has been renamed due to regular shark sightings. Gave me shivers. I felt cold water trickling into my wetsuit and down my back as I descended into the kelp forest below. I gave my dive buddy the signal and we all met at the sea floor. Two darth vaders under water. I had to stay focused in order to remain close to the group seeing that the visibility was low. The idea that a shark would only be visible once it was within 5 metres of me was an uncomfortable thought.

A sense of freedom overcame me as I glided through the water. Seeing marine life that is exposed to a really small percentage of the world left me feeling humbled and in awe. I felt a something poke me on the shoulder and I turned around to see my dive buddy frantically pointing to the left. And believe it or not, there was a shark! Instantly all my senses were alert and I felt so alive. Every fibre of my being was tuned into the movements of this fascinating animal. For a few seconds time stood still. I gazed at the beauty in which the shark wove through the kelp. Calm. At ease. Content. At first I thought these words were fitting to describe the shark, but I realised that those were actually my own feelings.

Being able to see a shark in its own environment was surreal. Fear was replaced by awe. The shark and I were in the same space and we were both okay. I didn’t think I would be okay if faced with a situation like this. Before disappearing, the final swish of its tail was like a confirmation of our companionship. I think I would like to see him again.

By Lani van Niekerk & Shruthi Vijayakumar

“Shark! We have another shark!”

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“Shark! We have another shark!” Yesterday, 22.23 o’clock, the fifteenth shark was in the books. This meant that we surpassed everybody’s expectations, since we all had thought we would catch far fewer sharks. This fifteenth shark is the end of our scientific shark research. Now, being back in Cape Town Harbor we had some time to reflect on those eventful and busy days spent onboard Pangaea.

I was personally always quite reserved towards sharks. Coming from Germany, where sharks don’t play a big role in the media, I never came in touch with the topic of sharks. That’s why in the beginning I stayed rather passive, watched the specialists do the work and was nervous about joining in. However, when I saw Dr. Allison Kock and her team bring the first shark onboard, I realized that there is no reason to be afraid of these animals. I looked at the shark, a 1.87m male, and was amazed by the sheer sight of it. Never had I dreamed that I would see a shark or even get the chance to touch it and be involved in the process of tagging it. I realized how beautiful those animals are, just as beautiful as any other kind of living being on this planet. This first encounter with a shark took all my fears away and I even jumped into the water after the first day of tagging, without being afraid of the animals that live beneath the surface. This experience once again showed me that fear is oftentimes only caused by a lack of knowledge.

 Looking back, all Young Explorers feel extremely privileged of having had the unique opportunity to join a world class shark research team on one of their field trips. But not only joining and watching, but even being actively involved in the whole process. Only when you come in contact with a shark first hand, you can form a judgment about this endangered species, which is often portrayed in a very misleading way.

By Leni and Saskia

15 Sharks Tagged in 3 Days!

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We left the familiar waters of Dassen Island and set sail bright and early into the rocking waves of the Atlantic. Our destination was an unexplored lagoon, where no sharks had been tagged before. Research around the world has shown that shallow, sheltered waters, like those in the lagoon we set sail for, often are of particular importance for shark reproduction. We were rewarded with three large females and one smaller male that we successfully tagged. They averaged 2.4 meters in length and over a meter in girth. Their large size necessitated the use of a mesh cage making them more difficult to control. Two out of the three sevengills had bite marks on their sides, which were most likely inflicted by male sharks during mating.
Feeling more confident with the new skills and practice the Young Explorers gained the last few days, we were much more involved with the tagging process, even though these sharks were significantly larger than those caught on previous days. Throughout the day we were once again amazed by the many skills and knowledge that each member of the diverse shark project team bring to the table. In one corner you could see people learning how to tie sailing knots, in the other they were practicing surgical stitching. Everyone had something to offer the group. Once again we were enthralled by Mike’s passion for exploration. We gathered around to his endless stories of childhood dreams becoming reality which ended in discussions on the feasibility of interplanetary travel.

Imagine living on an island by yourself for four years.

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Imagine living on an island by yourself for four years.

There is no one to talk to apart from birds and penguins, and the closest town is a six-hour boat ride away. Intriguingly, it’s the reality of Marlene – a woman we met at Dassen Island this afternoon while navigating to our next shark tagging spot.

“I’m not a people person,” she told us, while showing us around her backyard. “I get to see people sometimes, about once a month.”

The rest of the time she walks laps around the island to count bird colonies, some of which are endangered. To get there we had to sail for several hours while whales, sea lions and dolphins followed Pangaea.

It was a peaceful end to a day that started in a rush. We got woken up by the sound of marine scientists trying to catch sharks at the back of the sailboat at 5am. Still rubbing our sleepy eyes, we made our way to the navigation room where we started our anchor watch.

The following hours were exciting as we tagged four more sharks, bringing our total to nine on this trip. Dr Alison Kock and her team took advantage of our different skills to help tag the sharks and record our findings. It was more hands-on than yesterday but we enjoyed getting out of our comfort zones, even jumping into the sharky water for a swim afterwards.

We also convinced Marlene to get out of her comfort zone and invited her to join us for dinner onboard before she returned to her beloved, beautiful paradise.

By Andrea Lavarello and Shaya Laughlin

Poem: A Shark Date

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
Setting sail for Robben Island!

The sun began peeking up through the sky,

We looked back at the table and bade it goodbye.

Within the sails the southern wind played,

As we headed for Robben Island where Mandela stayed.

 

Onto our lines we hooked on our bait,

With the seven gill sharks we made a date.

They fell for our charm and devilish good looks,

Until we had their data signed in our books

 

Into their abdomen we inserted a tag,

To track every place their tails would wag.

The date was short it was time to go,

With a push and a shove we said later bro.

 

No time to be sad no time to despair,

Because date number two was already there.

We repeated the process and by the end of the day,

We had lots of sharks being tagged on their way.

 

The cherry on top of Tim’s birthday cake,

Was seeing dolphins and whales in the boat’s wake.

In wonder we watched as the sun receded,

Content and happy with expectations exceeded.

 

Lani van Niekerk & Shruthi Vijayakumar

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
Sailing is hard work!

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
Arriving at the anchoring spot next to Robben Island.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
Putting bait on the line to attract broadnose seven gill sharks.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
Our first catch! A male broadnose sevengill shark that is 1.9 metres in length.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
The shark is brought on board in order to complete the tagging procedure. In order to keep the shark in good shape we keep water running through its mouth and over the gills so that the shark can continue breathing.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
This species of shark has seven gills, whereas most species only have five gills.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
The shark is held down to prevent it from thrashing and causing injuries. We then measure its length and girth.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
A small incision is made in the shark’s abdomen. An audio tag is placed under the skin in order to track the shark’s movements. These tags communicate with receivers that are on the ocean floor. The receivers are retrieved and the data gets downloaded and used to analyse behavioural patterns.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
The last step is to gently remove the hook from the shark’s mouth.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
The shark is lowered back into the water in a hammock. It is important to ensure that the shark is in a good enough shape to swim away by itself. The tagging process is then completed.

 

Shark project in Cape Town, South Africa  with Alison and her team from shark spotters on board of Pangaea with Mike Horn and Young Explores.
What a beautiful place to be anchored for the night!

Why Tag Sharks?

Sevengill Shark Swimming in the deep

Understanding shark movement and location is a central component of effective conservation strategies. In many cases, policy makers have been unable to conserve threatened sharks due to the lack of appropriate data on shark movements and behaviours, data which tagging and tracking work can provide.

Two types of tags are primarily used: satellite and acoustic tags. The satellite tags are short-term data loggers that pop off the animal, float to the surface and transmit to a satellite. Acoustic tags are a long-term data collection option. They emit a series of pulses for up to 10 years, their pattern individually identifying each tag and therefore each shark. Tags are attached to the sharks usually with a tag pole when a shark swims near the surface in proximity to a research vessel.

You may be wondering if the tagging causes the sharks any pain. Many tags are attached on the fins, which have no nerve supply, and therefore do not harm the study subject. Scientists and engineers are constantly working together to improve tag performance, power, data acquisition, sensor capabilities, as well as reduce tag size, drag and improve animal welfare.

The Pole2Pole Shark Project is Underway!

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Pole2Pole Shark Project is underway! With the team all together, piled into the Mercedes Benz G-Wagons, we made our way from Pangaea along the Cape Peninsula to Fishhoek Beach, the home of the Shark Spotters.

Fishhoek was once a hotspot of white shark attacks in South Africa, but the the Shark Spotters pioneered environmentally-friendly and proactive methods for dealing with this issue. As opposed to lethal, expensive, and often ineffective shark culls as a response to shark bites, the Shark Spotters minimise the risk of a shark encounter by simply keeping watch on the ocean from the nearby mountains and clearing the waters when a shark poses a risk to swimmers.

Established in 2004 as a result of public pressure on the Western Cape Government, the Shark Spotters Programme employs 30 spotters to monitor the waters of surrounding beaches for shark activity. The team made their way up to one of the Shark Spotters huts which is raised 90m above the popular Muizenburg beach. The job requires extreme patience and in-depth knowledge on what to look for and what to do.

After a quick surf, we made our way back to Kalk Bay to visit the newly upgraded and highly interactive Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre. It was fantastic to see an organisation doing proactive marine conservation with local schools and we all learnt something new about shark species from around the world.

By Tim White and Mikhayla Bader

Rethinking Education

Amazon expedition.Anavilhanas national park

Climate change, inequality, the refugee crisis, debt, corruption, depression, pollution.

There is no shortage of crises and challenges that our world faces today – social, environmental and economic. Yet how many of truly understand these issues? How many of us learnt about the biggest challenges of our time through our formal education and developed the skills, abilities, mindsets, and heartsets required to tackle them?

Mandela so beautifully captured the vast untapped potential that exists within education when he said ‘education is the most powerful weapon with which we can change the world.’

Many of our current day education systems enable us to master academic concepts, secure test and examination scores to enable further education, but how many of our education systems place fostering empathy, creativity, collaboration, developing a connection with nature and all people, a core outcome?

I believe that we need to begin shifting the way we learn and rethinking our priorities. There are many examples to learn from around the world. Kaitiaki Collective is creating the world’s first bush school, where all education is learned with and through experiences with nature. Resources like Better World Ed enables us to teach empathy and talk about social and environmental issues in math classrooms. And we find pockets of schools embracing 21st century skills and values of education. How can bring these conversations front and centre in our classrooms?

And beyond the realms of formal education, we are all ultimately students and we are all educators too. How can each one us seek out information and experiences that will help us live more socially and environmentally conscious lives? And how can we through our everyday actions inspire the same of others?

By Shruthi Vijayakumar

Mike is in a constant state of travel and adventure , so keep up to date on all his expeditions !