Sunday, July 24, 2016

Shark Dive Tourism: The Good, The Bad and the Future!

If you're at DEMA 2016, you really must attend.
The speaker is of course none other than my irreducible friend Rick, and the topic will undoubtedly be his Sustainable Shark Diving project, hopefully with some first insights about operators, client preferences and public acceptance.

Regarding the latter.
I'm frankly disappointed but upon reflection, I'm really not that surprised. Essentially, my conclusion is that most of our clients are mere consumers: they purchase the product, enjoy the experience but don't really want to be bothered with deeper thoughts about ecotourism and sustainability.

Take our case.
We're doing OK, thank you - but that's merely the result of an initial flurry of enthusiasm, and the reviews have since been few and far between.
Yes our research and our conservation achievements are impressive, yes our customers very much enjoy Ben and Manoa's education and awareness presentations, yes everybody is happy to make a contribution to the villages, yes we regularly win awards and are generally considered to be one of the best of class in Shark ecotourism, yes we host and interact with a myriad of committed Shark people, be it professional conservationists, researchers, professional media people, selected activists, scholars, students or volunteers - but those are not our typical tourist Shark divers. 
Due to the nature of the animals we showcase but also, owing to the way we have chosen to conduct matters, our Shark dive is essentially a tightly choreographed show that aims to be a safe and sustainable tourism product rather than some sort of a personal experience. And consequently, we aren't really compatible with either the troglodyte adrenaline junkies or the Shark huggers, let alone the self-promoting media whores; and the dreaded semiprofessional image hunters with their fisheye lenses have learned to frequent more accommodating operators.

Instead, our typical customer is your quintessential traveling Joe diver. 
They are first and foremost tourists, will do a Shark dive among many other things, are generally not terribly experienced or committed, generally visit for merely a day or two, want to experience guaranteed Shark encounters, want to be served, want to feel safe, want to take a few snaps and want to purchase a memento of their experience. Generally, they love our product and will love us on TripAdvisor - but that's that, the more as Fiji will offer them plenty more fabulous tourism activities and wonderful people to experience and tell about.

And the others?
Many of the really good operators are probably too successful and too busy to bother promoting SSD; and the bad ones are obviously not interested in undergoing an objective review. 
And when it comes to the other diving Shark enthusiasts, they too often have agendas (as in experiencing extreme encounters or taking extreme pictures) that may well conflict with the kind of tourism SSD is trying to promote.

But I'm obviously speculating as usual.
Rick may know more and it will be really interesting having him share his insights - plus he's a great orator and simply a great guy.
In brief, highly recommended!

See you in Las Vegas!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Are Bull Sharks particularly aggressive?

Of course not!

In fact, rather the opposite!
Contrary to much more assertive species like e.g. Silvertips, Galapagos' and Grey Reefies that have no qualms approaching, and sometimes even harassing SCUBA divers, Bulls are much more wary and appear to actively avoid us, to the point that they will generally only approach people underwater when attracted by food. I call them shy bodybuilders - but bodybuilders they are, large and immensely strong, and they definitely demand to be always treated with great circumspection and respect!

And the numerous bites?
Like our newly minted sharxpert (my oh my! :) ) Lindsay explains, Bull Shark habitat coincides with the areas most frequented by people, meaning that the chances for encounters are comparatively larger - and then, everything goes, from mostly nothing to mistakes to agonism (= aggression) all the way to outright predation = not aggression! 
But yes - forget the legends about the exceptional aggression, the testosterone and the high territoriality that are nothing but unsupported BS!

Anyway, just saying!
I was away and have only now seen Lindsay's interview, and wanted to state that I very much agree. Nothing beats personal experience - and that she certainly got!

Attagirl - well said!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Epic Diving join Global Shark Diving!

Epic - literally!
When it comes to Bahamian Shark diving, Debra and Vincent may be the new kids on the block - but contrary to others who continue to regale us with fake Shark conservation media featuring the latest batch of pink-clad bimbettes, the Canabals don't talk from both sides of the mouth but have instead pursued a strategy of combining solid ecotourism with Shark conservation, research and education from the get go. What I particularly like is how they've managed to completely turn around the image of the once much reviled Oceanic Whitetip, a highly assertive species that was widely thought to be completely unsuitable for tourism, let alone for diving without cages - and yes on that point, yours truly stands totally corrected!
So very well done, and welcome to the team!

And now we are ten.
I can say with absolute certainty that when it comes to Shark ecotourism, these operators are truly the best of the best - meaning that finding new candidates that fulfill all of our guiding principles is becoming increasingly challenging, the more as each of our members and ambassadors can unilaterally veto any proposal. Personally, I'd like to see the next member hailing from the Indopacific, ideally Asia - but it ain't gonna be easy!

Check out the above principles and if you know of anybody, tell us here!

To be continued!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Friday, June 24, 2016

360 on Facebook!


Now you can view it on Facebook.
Check this out and share share share!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Resident Oceanic Mantas - Paper!

Notice the distinctive chevron pattern on the back - source.

Who would have thought!

I for one believed them to be highly migratory.
Instead, it appears that the Giant Oceanic Mantas Manta birostris are much more resident = there are several distinct populations whose ranges do not overlap = it probably makes more sense to protect them locally and regionally rather than globally.
Paper here, synopsis here.

And here's a short video.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Poaching in a Shark Sanctuary!

And talking of different Shark Sanctuaries.

Read this.
Whereas yours truly has always supported them as stop-gap measures, my pal Patric has always been a staunch, and vocal skeptic of the effectiveness of Shark Sanctuaries; and I must congratulate him for having made the personal effort and come up with clear evidence for poaching in the Marshalls and beyond.

But is the system broken like he asserts?
Dunno - and neither does he!

As always, it's a matter of nuance.
Shark poaching does not automatically invalidate a Sanctuary.
The way I see it, the aim of the Sanctuary legislation is not Shark preservation but Shark conservation - and where I'm coming from, conservation does not consist in preserving every last individual but instead, aims at preserving populations, or species.
And this I believe is being achieved by keeping mortality below sustainable levels.

Granted, others may differ - but that's how I see it.
And when it comes to the Marshalls and for the matter, to most if not all of those Sanctuaries, we simply do not have the hard data to make a final judgement about their effectiveness as conservation tools. 

But of course we can make educated guesses.
Looking at the list by Pew, I suspect that French Polynesia and New Caledonia "work" because of strong French monitoring and enforcement; and the Bahamas and some other Caribbean ones may benefit from the economic importance of Shark tourism and the fact that there was never a noticeable commercial Shark fishery there in the first place. The others are certainly a mixed bag, from likely suspect in Honduras, the Cooks, Western Samoa and possibly even the Maldives, to "difficult" in Micronesia where the Marshals and Palau are probably the "best" and the FSM with its shredded Mantas the worst.
But again, this is merely guesswork - and one would really hope that Pew will one day step up and provide some scientific evidence for what has been successful, and what has not, as they should!

Long story short?
Despite of the preferences of the professional Shark people, this is the real world where in many developing countries, western-style science-based fisheries management will remain wishful thinking for a very long time indeed; and there, Shark Sanctuaries may be one viable quick-fix solution, this very much in line with the precautionary principle. Yes there are certainly other strategic approaches - but from what I can discern, they will once again take a lot of time to fully implement.

I ask, do we really have that time?
And if the answer is, probably not, should we maybe consider abandoning the current entrenched ideological positions in favor of practical solutions = short term prohibition that can later be eased in favor of management?

C'mon people.
Aren't we ultimately all working towards the same goal = shouldn't the tribalism, money and recognition only be of secondary importance?

Just asking!