Monday, March 06, 2017

Are we killing them with Kindness?

No we are certainly NOT!

Check this out.
I would have never thought that I would have to say this about a paper co-authored by Juerg and Adam, ever - but I find it pretty much shite, and pretty useless to boot. Alas!
To me it smells like some student needed some grades and was told to compile some lists - and like many such meta-analyses, the result is everything and nothing, however very unfortunately with a subliminal anti-industry message at its core, as very much evidenced by the stupid title.
Mind you, methinks that had it not been for my friends, it would have been even worse; plus, there is nothing inherently inaccurate about its findings, and the recommendations are probably formally correct - but it still annoys the heck out of me.

But maybe it's just me.
Thing is, it fatally reminds me of the overwhelming hostility displayed by most researchers and NGOs when we embarked into the Fiji Shark Project 13 years ago.
There was no specific criticism - just a widespread aversion against messing with nature, something that has continued hounding us til today whereby some quarters continue to try and nitpick on what we do despite of the clear benefits the SRMR has brought to Fiji and its Sharks.
Yes of course any wildlife tourism will have an effect (dooh!), and of course those effects need to be analyzed and mitigated which is precisely what we've been doing and also blogging about (yup those would be 100+ posts, and counting!) for years - but to even hint that we may be the problem is just simply unconscionable.
Who is killing them are first and foremost the fishermen and hunters, and the people who destroy and pollute their habitat, and humankind that emits too much CO2 etc etc - and far from being complicit, marine ecotourism is one of the factors that is counteracting that unholy trend and slowing down the biodiversity loss by creating alternative income and employment opportunities, and by instilling a sense of awe and love in the public!
Or am I missing something here?

Which brings me straight over to this opus - press release here.
First and foremost, it's always nice to see one's work being publicly acknowledged along with the honorable mention of the GFSC; also, being one of the (recalcitrant) industry representatives who have been consulted, I'm partially responsible for the final product.

This has been in the making for a very long time indeed.
I did blog about it here and very much stand by what I said then, i.e.
Nice to have academia and the NGO intelligentsia look into our industry and hopefully give us some valuable unbiased pointers for improvement - but any such code will only succeed if there is considerable industry buy-in. And for that to happen, any such rules will not only have to reflect some eco wish list but also be flexible and above all, factually and economically practicable!
So how does this rate by those metrics?
I can say that it is much improved compared to its initial versions where there clearly was a don't mess with nature undertone as per the above, and where the overall gist was much more geared towards the need for regulation (re-read this!).
I can also say that I did submit it for review to GSD and got back a polite average score of 7 out of 10 - but I can also equally unequivocally state that nobody was highly impressed let alone enthused, and that most certainly none of us is now gonna run and follow the suggestions to e.g. (re)define his business core values or get certified by some tree-hugging agency, or the like.

And on a more personal note.
Despite of clear improvements, Tool 7 remains highly irritating because of its largely negative bias.  Precautionary approach my ass! And, we have actually chosen (!) to hand feed as provided that it is done responsibly, we find it highly selective and actually safer than the alternatives. And no, we're absolutely not gonna change our feeding times = opening hours on a daily basis - I mean, seriously!
And then I find other stupidities like e.g. that fucking flash photography ban which is apparently vital when snorkeling with Whale Sharks but not with equally surface-dwelling Mantas and Baskers, or when cage diving with GWS - let alone with the other Sharks at depth whose pupils will be comparatively more distended????!

But now it's me nitpicking.
Overall the guide is quite nice - and nicely presented which will make the donors happy! :)

Long story short?

A. Although this is well meaning and certainly not terrible, the Best Practice Guide is also not great.
With that in mind, I very much doubt that there will be the abovementioned substantial industry buy-in, the more as I don't see any mechanism for encouraging adherence e.g. via an own rating system or failing that, by using one's outreach to strongly endorse and promote Rick's SSD. Yes Project AWARE I'm looking at you!
The good ones among us don't need your help but very much conduct their own research as evidenced by the bylaws of GSD whereby research is a precondition for membership; and failing some form of gentle coercion (and again, I'm looking at you PADI!), the bad operators will simply refuse to cooperate as e.g. already evidenced by their obvious boycott of SSD.
All of which obviously begs the question, cui bono = and could those resources have been invested into something more useful?

B. We are not the problem.
Instead, even the worst ones among us are a part of the solution, see above! But yes we always need to learn, evolve and improve - and this ideally via self regulation. And if not, then regulation is certainly both opportune and necessary!

C. When it comes to the whole fucking never-ending controversy about provisioning.
People who feed and condition Sharks are called fishermen - not a few dive operators! And anyway, this is one of the safest underwater activities by far = with one single fatality during thousands upon thousands of baited dives, it is orders of magnitude safer than ordinary SCUBA!
Yes there are effects on the animals, the principal one being conditioning - but they are largely short-term, localized and sublethal, and in no way comparable to the threats Sharks face otherwise! But yes there too we need to minimize our impact - and guess what, most of us largely do!

D. And finally, to those researchers and NGOs.
We did not ask for this - and all this incessant nagging and lecturing by people who ultimately have no clue about, and zero investment into our industry is frankly becoming terminally irksome. There is now a whole cabal of incidentally mainly female researchers whose academic niche (and thus career and thus income) is predicated upon being considered ecotourism experts, or whatever, and who appear to be operating with questionable agendas and also appear to desperately want to meddle instead of waiting to be asked.

When it comes to the global Shark diving industry in general, there are now one excellent paper and one good one (both, incidentally, by experienced Shark divers!) and several that are not, see e.g. here and also here, with links - and now there is this.

That's plenty enough, thank you very much.
And now, please, why don't you just fuck off - because we actually got work to do, salaries to pay and tourists to wow!
No hard feelings, love you all! :)

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