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.
& the Pole2Pole Shark Project begins!!! We are so excited to be on board Pangaea and kick start this exciting project. But first things first! Delegate boat chores and tasks, clean the deck, and go through the equipment.
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?
We need to talk about sharks. They are not out to get us. The only frenzied attacks are by some media and it is impacting conservation efforts. I’d be a rich woman if I was given one dollar for every time a shark was labelled as a “man-eater” or “dangerous monster” in a newspaper or an evening news bulletin.
However, as an Australian who loves being in the ocean, I also understand the concerns about these marine animals. Since the start of last year, four people have died of a fatal shark attack on our shores. One man died just kilometers south of where I swim every day. It is human nature to be scared of something unknown. Sharks are so mysterious to most of us and their habitat, the sea, is too.
Unfortunately fear sells papers. People seem to love reading about events that stimulate their emotions whether it be fear, anger or outrage. Shark stories also often end up on front pages because they make for good headlines. And if you believe everything you read or hear, it is easy to start thinking sharks are killers just waiting for you to go into the water so that they can eat you. As author Allain de Botton explains it: “In its stoking of our fears, the news cruelly exploits our weak hold on a sense of perspective.” His choice of words is harsh but holds some truth. If we are not informed on a subject, our opinion can be swayed towards fear rather than understanding.
Of course, there are many facts and figure to counter sensationalised headlines but fear is something that quickly becomes ingrained. It is difficult to start looking at sharks as an important part of our eco-system if you have always been told they are “man-eaters”.
Education is the only way to interrupt this cycle. People need to understand sharks and their behaviours to be able to overcome their fears. The media is one way to start the shift. We need factual information on shark ecology and behaviour. That way, we can have a better understanding of these animals and how to share their natural habitats. For example, next time there is a shark attack, instead of demonising the animal, the other side of the story needs to be presented by including interviews from knowledgeable experts. Story by story, the public perception of sharks will start to evolve in a constructive way which will help conservation efforts.
Biodiversity encompasses the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems. It is vital in a number of ways including preserving the aesthetic value of the natural environment, contributing to human well-being through utilitarian values, maintaining the integrity of the environment through: maintaining CO2/O2 balance, regulating biochemical cycles, absorption and breakdown of pollutants, pathogens and waste materials, determining and regulating of the natural world climate, and as protective services, e.g. by acting as indicators of environmental changes.
The biosphere is being threatened by several phenomena that are the result of increasing human pressures on the planet. Declines in populations and extinction of species are caused by changing the Earth’s ecosystems to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fuel, and by climate change. Today’s threats to species and ecosystems are caused by human mismanagement of biological resources often result of misguided economic policies, and pollution in addition to climate change and they’ve been recorded as the greatest threats of recent times.
Truth is, biodiversity is the foundation for human health. By securing the life-sustaining goods and services which biodiversity provides to us, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can provide significant benefits to our health. In contrast, the continuing loss of biodiversity on a global scale represents a direct threat to our health. Without a global environment that is healthy and capable of supporting a diversity of life, no human population can exist. This concept has been recently discussed as “One Health”.
For many people, the image of a shark fin gliding along the ocean’s surface is sure to cause terror. With this project, our central goal is to help change the perception of sharks from one of fear to one of appreciation for the very tangible benefits that sharks provide our ecosystems and our economies.
Around the world, these conservation victories and perspective shifts have already been achieved by remarkable projects, but there remains much work to be done. One of the most stark examples of the importance of this perspective shift is in the life and work of Peter Benchley, the author of the screenplay Jaws. In 1975, Jaws broke international box office records as millions of people watched a movie about an overly aggressive, fictionalised shark. This movie has had lasting effects on ways we think about sharks. Overnight, millions of people suddenly feared sharks and fishermen began actively killing sharks around the world. Peter Benchley was shocked when he realised the harmful effects of negative shark portrayals, and from that point on he dedicated his career to shark conservation and education. Over the next 40 years, Peter was an outspoken and effective advocate for shark conservation. His legacy includes the annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, which supports ocean conservation leaders around the world.
In addition to the work of ocean advocates, recent scientific research has made it easier than ever to support shark conservation by reaffirming sharks as vital to our economic and ecological interests. Scientists have determined that global shark ecotourism brings in over $314 million annually, and that number is projected to double over the next 20 years! It is clear that sharks are worth much more alive than they are dead. Additionally, we’ve recently learned the risk of shark attacks is the lowest it has been in decades, contrary to the impression that can be given by sensational media reports. Through recognition and appreciation of these facts, we can see the importance of protecting these vital species.
When I first chose to embark on my Pole2Pole adventure, I not only decided to undertake a unique circumnavigation of the globe via the two poles, I also made a precious promise to my two girls. I promised them I would try my best to update them with news and images of my adventures in order to help them share my dreams, thoughts and experiences with you, the people that follow me and believe in what I do.
So today, after over a month of silence, I am writing to my girls and I am writing to you, to let you know what I have been up to.
During the end of July I ventured alone into the Namib Desert with a simple aim, my goal was to survive off of nature’s resources while crossing on foot a small part of this country I have always admire. But the aim was not only to survive; it was also to disconnect from the connected world and to discover new horizons.
Namibia treated me well. I walked for hours under the burning sun, dug deep for a couple drops of water to hydrate myself, and encountered majestic wildlife along my path. But two weeks wasn’t enough, I needed more time alone to reconnect with myself.
That is when I moved on to the Caprivi bordering Botswana, and ventured into the Okavango swamps by pirogue amongst the crocodiles and the hippos. Living in and off nature is a type of self-cultivation, it allows you to grow into the person that you truly are. There is an abundance of value and fortune in being able to make my own decisions and naturally carrying on their consequences, whether they might good or bad. Nature is the best teacher; it educates me on ways to take responsibility. In today’s world, and today’s systems, we are unfortunately losing the ability of taking control of our very own destinies. The more one does alone, the better that person can understand their self, and the faster they grow.
My time spent discovering Namibia and Botswana was a real gift. Although the hours were long and at times my feet deserved a rest, the freedom I felt while crossing paths with animals in their natural habitat and traversing wide-open plains, mountains and dry riverbeds, was incomparable! Even the fires I made to keep myself warm at night had a meaning to me. Food for thought was everywhere around me. The environment I was exploring was step-by-step enriching me.
Solitude is an incredibly efficient way to finding answers to the many questions we all have about life and ourselves. I can guarantee that inspiration is found by undertaking new challenges and by venturing outside of our comfort zones. But the first question one needs to ask themselves before taking off for this life quest is the following: How determined am I to find the answers to my questions? How far am I willing to go? Am I even capable?
Day 1 – 16:30: We’ve been on the road for 10 hours now, but one could hardly call what we’ve done so far ‘good progress’ – the thrill of adventure has clearly kicked in, resulting in a large number of sidetracked stops to admire the openness we have finally ventured into. On top of that, while we picturesquely drove along the coast with large waves collapsing onto the sand chasing the GClass tyres, all of the 7 cars eventually got stuck in the soft sand. Although the idea of despair might have crossed a couple minds, the explorers in us kicked in resulting in an intense 1hour battle against the swampy sands to dig one car out after the other. In moments like these, our notion of The Skeleton Coast takes on a different meaning. You begin to realize the terror some of those now-skeletons might have felt before this deadly coastal land was named. Up until now, we’ve had 7 sand-submerged vehicles, one of the 7 cars broke down due to a faulty gearbox, and one punctured tyre. Safe to say we are driving these beasts limitlessly. Riding over the steep sandy dunes, rolling down others, cruising along the flat desert roads, chasing the waves as they collapse majestically on the beach. Although we haven’t covered much terrain yet, we’ve been mind-blown with the most incredible sceneries. One recurring word amongst the large group: “openness”. There is something incredibly humbling about pacing through these vast territories. Almost a feeling of utter vulnerability. As you look around, you find yourself squinting in search of a far horizon. This ever-changing land does indeed carry its name well, there is a feeling of infertility, hopelessness, and even death. Ironically, these same lands also inspire eternity. Needless to say that being here and now has generated a unique energy amongst the team, problems are tackled differently, smiles and laughter seem more sincere, and the topics of conversation are limitless in imagination. The sun is slowly setting, one of those bright yellow African sunsets, as we make our way towards our camping spot for the night. The adventure has only just begun, but oh my what an inspiring day 1!
5am there a loud knock on our cabins’ door: “Wake up babies it’s time for an adventure!” we heard our dad shout across the door with excitement! Today, at the wheels of 7 MB GClass vehicles we are heading out from Walvisbay with a group of 10 inspirational writers to discover the astonishing lands of Namibia. Starting from the coast, we will drive our way inland towards the world’s largest desert, the Namib. There, each one of us will live our own adventure. 5 days of pure discoveries, wildlife spotting, harsh hikes, and stories around the fire that will keep us warm during the cool desert nights. We love that our father has chosen to share his experience with the world by inviting influential people to follow his footsteps. As Mike always says: “Everyone has their own mountain to climb”, but how will the world realize this if we do not seek to spread the word?! Following this short piece of adventure these journalists, photographers and soon-to-be explorers will return to their respective homes around the globe and share their journey through words and images, in hopes of maybe causing a ripple-effect: to encourage one person after the other to step out of their comfort zone, to discover the planet, understand its importance, and act accordingly to preserve it and explore it! Each one us has their own notion of exploration, we do not all need to circumnavigate the equator, climb 8 thousand meter peaks, or ski to the North Pole in complete darkness, as our ambitious father would do! We simply wish for the world to take a leap of faith and step out there in search of a deeper meaning to life. By discovering earth, you will discover yourself, your limits: which you will then strive to push further, your passions: which will then expand, and your purpose: which might see new horizons.
Living life gets a new meaning only when you can exist by being who you are. To be free is and certainly will forever be one of the most desired needs of mankind. History has taught us allot of what we know today about the word freedom. The word freedom has nearly become an obscenity and is slowly disappearing like the morning fog. The question is the following: What price am I willing to pay to be able to live with a certain amount of freedom? And what will I do with the luxury of freedom if I could acquire it?! I guess the trick question is, how do you define being free?
The big dilemma of growing up is that we lose our dreams, with that we lose our freedom. The solution to the dilemma is very simple in theory: Grow older but keep on dreaming like a child.
My father told me that if your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough. How can man ever sleep, if his dreams keep on eluding him? Freedom often gets imprisoned in our mind purely by ourselves and how we think.
Action is the key word that liberates the mind. To be free, you need action.
We often speak about luxury as something we cannot afford. The new luxury in today’s world is freedom; it can be bought without a currency. We can buy freedom by changing the way we think! We often move from one situation to another, thinking we will have more time only to realise that we don’t. It is like having six of one or a half a dozen of another. One day will always have 24 hours and that’s the same for each human being on earth, we all have the same amount of time. How we use it is a different question.
Working with freedom, doing what you love, staying true to yourself, trying to do what you always wanted to do, reaching success or failure learning from it, is all forms of mental freedom. Take a moment to look at your life, find what ties you down, doing your best at what you do, start loving the hard and difficult moments, helps us to frees up our mind.
We should not always think that by having more time is the only form of freedom. Liberate yourself mentally take on challenges and responsibilities. It makes you feel good about yourself.
In short, enjoy being yourself and love what you do. It will make you happy, and a happy man is a free man.
When you have worked hard for what you want, and then acquire it, you often realise that you do not have enough time to use what you have acquired, that belief frustrates and imprisons us. The freedom of enjoying what we worked for, without the pleasure of the action of using it has the reverse effect of what we imagined it to be like when we started pursuing our pathway to freedom. We often say when I have this I will do that… and we find ourselves with no time to do the “that”, this is where the game changes in our mind.
Instead of thinking of only enjoying the action part we should enjoy the whole process of acquiring as well, in fact enjoy everything we do in the ideal situation. Certainly there will be different levels of enjoyment.
Live in the moment, do not always want to be somewhere else, it liberates your mind and adds to the happiness that makes us feel free! Be happy with who you are, rather than unhappy trying to be someone else or what others want you to be. Freedom can be summed up in 3 words. KEEP IT TRUE.
What does all of this blab about freedom have to do with the Pole2Pole expedition?