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.
With many of the world’s shark and ray populations declining, there is a growing need for greater research to inform conservation management. Sharks and rays face a variety of threats, most notably from fishing, habitat degradation, pollution and climate change.
A change in public perception, from one where it is believed that we need to protect humans from sharks to one where we understand the necessity to protectsharks from humans needs to occur.
The changing public perception of sharks and rays has increased awareness of the risks faced by this group, adding to calls for better management.
As part of the Shark Project, we aim to raise awareness about sharks and reach out to the public. We want you to engage with the topic, hope to challenge the stereotypes and help you make you form your own opinion about the importance of sharks in our ecosystems.
Your voice does matter. Your conversations help shape people’s beliefs.
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?
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?
The horn orchestra performed by the Monaco yachts upon our departure seems so far off in the distance now. Kicking off the expedition at the prestigious Monaco Yacht Club, I remember perceiving Pangaea as dwarfed by the sheer size of the adjacent giants. Not many vehicles can convey a unique story and character as well as boats do, though. That of Pangaea screams adventure. Her expedition-grade rigging and worn aluminum hull with dents and scars, which can each tell a story from the other side of the world, create a stark and curious contrast to the fine-polished hulls and delicate superyacht designs. Moored amongst them, she radiates an insatiable hunger for exploration, as though wanting to instantly break free from the mooring lines and made bound for distant shores.
Today, two weeks and around 3200 nautical miles later, we are hugging the Atlantic coast of the African continent as we cruise down South, having passed the halfway mark on our trip from Monaco to Cape Town already. So far we have been gifted with favorable winds and currents, enabling us to make great progress and push ahead of schedule. This time made good will come in handy soon as we pass the equator and the trade winds and currents start turning against us.
Ever since we’ve passed the Cape Verde Islands and rounded the westernmost tip of Africa, we’ve entered virgin territory for the Pangaea. After rounding the world several times and logging close to 200.000 nautical miles, the Pangaea had yet to be seen by the majority of the African Atlantic coast. The boat is an explorer herself, desiring to leave a track behind in the blank spots on the canvas that is the oceans of the world. This idea has recently been shared with me by Mike when talking about his expedition route choice and has added another layer of appreciation for the boat that we’re sailing on. In the past few months I’ve learned to feel at home on this boat during the expedition preparation phase at port. Now, with the boat making way, entire new facets of the boat are revealing themselves which I’m feverishly familiarizing myself with through the guidance and mentorship of Mike, taking in all the fresh information like a sponge, with the curiousness of the ocean sailing neophyte that I am. While the Pangaea is heading into the approaching waves at a close-hauled course, with the wind filling her freshly painted sails that propel her forward at eleven knots, with the waves tickling her bow as it pierces through the seas, you cannot help but notice her enjoyment and eloquence all along. Now, she truly is in her element.
Of the coast we don’t see much as we stay mostly more than 50 nautical miles offshore. But in the moments we do catch rare glimpses of it, the lights of homes send us imagining about distant and exotic cultures. There, at shore, must be a completely different world and life from what we know. At sea, we’re in our own little world, isolated and surrounded only by the horizon and our thoughts. The longer the duration we are at sea, the simpler our lives become. Watch periods, sail trimming and cloud studying become the cornerstones of our day-to-day life, and the daily progress we’re making stands above all else. We live for the gale that sends us hurrying all across the deck and crawling through sailbags, and for the serene nightwatch that sees the moonlight caressing the deck and the sails from both the sky and the sea; for the breathtakingly colorful sunset like you could only experience it at sea that brings the whole crew together on deck to marvel at the mesmerizing yet momentary display of art in nature; for both the intense times that make us feel alive, and for the tranquil moments that allow us to think about the ones that are important to us. The largest concerns of life at sea become reduced to coming on deck and being told just having missed the pod of pilot whales that passed by us two short minutes ago (happened to me yesterday), or the nightly tradeoff between the occasional spray hitting the face while sleeping, and a close-hatched, airtight sauna of a cabin (Mike could sing you a song about getting ripped out of sleep by a bucket load of spray). The fear of losing focus for just one fraction of a second and being thrown off the boom by the next better gust. And I won’t deny feeling homesick at times. But come that next thrilling storm, that next purple sunset, that next school of playful dolphins graciously surfing down our bow wave, and an overwhelming sense of beauty and gratitude takes over, flushing the most profound kind of contentment down my every fiber. Is this what sailors call “Finding the ocean”?
We are massively enjoying and enthralled by the momentum of the expedition start. The anticipation for what lies ahead is big. We are looking forward to crossing the equator by this time tomorrow, to the amazing things that are awaiting us in Namibia and Cape Town, and beyond all that, to the ever-looming grand adventure that is going to be the Southern Ocean.