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! 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.