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Tag: exploration

Shark Project – Final Blog

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The boat buzzes with Young Explorers, each with a job to leave Pangaea, our home for the past ten days, in a condition Mike is happy with, and we sit and reflect on the Pole2Pole Shark Project. To try and find one word to describe it would be difficult but the word that comes to mind is, ‘dynamic.’ The people we interacted with, our team and what we did were all remarkably, dynamic.

Working with Shark Spotters, the Laureus ‘Sport for Good’ Foundation, Waves for Change and GrassRoot Soccer gave our project a scientific and social aspect to our time here in Cape Town. It was both inspiring and motivating to work with such passionate and dedicated people in each of these organisations and gave us great hope for future change. The shark tagging expedition contributed valuable data to increase what we know about the seven-gill shark species here in South Africa and allowed Young Explorers the opportunity to be hands on in a once in a life time experience. The shark diving day allowed us to really interact with shark species in their natural habitat and was aimed at abolishing the negative stereotypes that the media associate with sharks. The second part of our project included engaging with local communities and allowed us an insight into a world that we are extremely sheltered from. These experiences are vital for global awareness and personal growth and allow us to identify key areas that require change as well as the tools in order to drive that change.

An unexpected positive impact of this project was the reunion of Young Explorers from different expeditions and from all around the world. Each person felt revitalized and our passion to drive social and environmental change was fuelled. Conversations were always inspiring and excitement for our future was tangible. Working as a team of Young Explorers is an extraordinary experience with dynamic individuals contributing a variety of skill sets and expertise to create something unique and highly impactful.

Ultimately, this project is just the beginning of many Pole2Pole projects to come. Our team of over 200 “Young” Explorers have grown to become veterinarians, scientists, journalists, communicators, and everything in between. Mike will be completing his extraordinary circumnavigation of the planet for the next two years; our fundamental aim is to utilize our diverse group of young people to drive the environmental and social change that the world needs.

“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.

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

Sharks in the Media

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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.

By Shaya Laughlin

Why Biodiversity Matters?

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”.

By Andrea Lavarello

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