Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Big Announcement!

Click for detail!

We got BIG NEWS!
Read this - see it at the very end?
We've finally moved into our very own custom-built premises on our very own little slice of paradise right next door to our previous location - yup, that would be those buildings with the blue roof, with more appearing as Google Earth gets updated!
The new dive shop is everything we've ever wished for, and then some - this very much inclusive of Tashi Blue's Fiji Shark Lab, this in large part courtesy of dozens upon dozens of proud shark parents who have made an adoption via Tashi's My Fiji Shark project. So thank you thank you thank you - hope you're as pleased as we are! 😊
Incidentally, she's currently hosting the coolest of shark dudes and doing some real cool shark stuff - but that's for her and not me to report!
But how, I hear you ask.
Yes the bloody pandemic has been hard hard hard - and that's a colossal understatement.
Plus, I posted that piece back in February 2021, with another ten dreadful months of zero income, personal tragedy and existential angst to go. 
But, we are resilient.
And more importantly, we do have a long proven track record of real and often pioneering conservation and research achievements and of global industry leadership, and have a reputation for getting things done on time and on budget - incidentally with zero per diems and zero time and money wasted on junkets, conferences and committees! 

And so it came to pass that we got a call by the United Nations.
And after many interminable months of meticulous scrutiny and mountains of paperwork, we were ultimately selected as Fiji's first recipient of a blended finance package under the Global Fund for Coral Reefs!
Hardest thing I've ever done - and trust me, I've done a few. 
But do it we did.

Anyway, we've since been exceptionally busy.
Apart from the rather nightmarish building project, and trying to rebuild our business, our main focus has been to properly document and then try to counter and possibly even reverse the extraordinary damage to our fish populations from all the overfishing and poaching during the Covid emergency.
What's already clear is that it ain't gonna be easy.
We've conducted several scientific surveys (thank you PADI for the co-sponsorship!) that have confirmed our worst fears insofar as it looks like our coast including the SRMR has been pretty much completely stripped of all prized fish. This has been compounded by the last government's tragic decision to reverse the fishing ban on our grouper aggregations, and by several large-scale coral bleaching events owing to an unprecedented triple-dip La Niña.
The sharks are largely OK - but our big groupers, jacks, snappers, sweetlips, emperors, parrots and surgeonfishes etc are all missing in action.

We've embarked on a series of community consultations paired with an aggressive series of day- and nighttime poaching patrols in cooperation with Fisheries and the Navy, and poaching has decreased substantially. 
But this may merely be a reflection of the fact that there's nothing left to poach. 
Plus, this is unlikely to ever go completely away as some of the people who have become poachers when they lost their job during the pandemic are not going back and will continue to ply their infamous trade, the more since as stocks continue to decrease, the prices of fish continue to increase.
And finally, only time will tell whether the professed commitment to sustainability of our newly elected government is truly genuine - so fingers crossed.
PS: so far so good = excellent decision, and looking forward to helping enforce it! 
Conversely, this sucks big time the more as zero of it is based on science - and unsurprisingly, the reefs are already crawling with sea cucumber harvesters that will quickly drive stocks back down into oblivion. So sad!

But even in the best of cases, fixing this mess will take time.
We're assisting where we can, by running the patrols but also by e.g. establishing a nursery of selected heat-tolerant corals in order to restock the reef. And we will also reseed the reef with giant clams, mainly T. derasa and squamosa, and even a few gigas, all courtesy of the hatchery on Makogai.
But reestablishing our fish populations will be a huge challenge and require constant vigilance and above all, lots of patience as biological processes are slow - and having obliterated generations of pregnant groupers sure ain't helping.
Anyway, we're on it, and cautiously optimistic.

And finally, on a personal note.
If the pandemic has taught me a lesson, it was the value of going back to basics = a simple, harmonious, personally fulfilling life with a few really good people and a modicum of happiness. And obviously, great cheese!
And in that light, spending all my time and energy on public shark advocacy just doesn't cut it anymore. And don't get me going on those ever-increasing hordes of instagramming self-promoting pathetic shark people (and THIS!) - that, too is not going away but getting worse by the day.
Seriously, check out the link - what a bunch of losers!
Long story short, I'm done with this.
I'm retiring! Again! 
And lemme tell you: what a bloody relief!
It's now a full 20 years since I've left the stellar career and posh life to come to Fiji  and devote my life to shark research and conservation, and it's past time for me to pass on the baton. 
And I could not ask for better successors: our team is the best we've ever had, and Andrew and Tashi Blue are young, smart, energized, enthused and phenomenally capable, and will carry the torch, fight the good fight and continue to make us incredibly proud in the process.

So here's to freedom!
I still have ONE big unfinished project which I will continue to personally curate lest I get too bored - but other than that, I am officially embarking on a strict regimen of personal shark dives and dolce far niente!  
And obviously, great cheese!

To the many who have helped - Thank You.
To our detractors, all is forgiven - NOT!  Drop dead!

Ciao ciao - see you in the water!

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Bronze for Fijiana!

Toso Viti - together we can!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Gold for Fiji!

Huge congrats to the team.
And to fellow Shark divers Gareth and Danielle!  
Toso Viti! 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Shark Rescue - Video!

Silio: when he doesn't rescue Sharks or retrieve stolen cameras, he models for My Fiji Shark!

So, was that Shark asking for help?
Who knows - but it sure looks that way, especially considering that she tried twice! And she definitely chose to come to the right person as Silio was personally trained by none other than our unforgotten Rusi, speaks Shark and knew exactly what to do!
Be it as it may, it was a really remarkable interaction.
This is a completely wild, large alpha predator choosing freely to peacefully interact with a human - which has incidentally also spared her weeks of pain, as the weighted line would have cut deeply into her mouth and left her permanently disfigured like Crook or Granma!
Seriously - how cool is that! 

And before you ask - yes that's a known individual.
Judging from her distinctive crooked smile, she appears to be a habitual raider of fishing lines, and we've accordingly named her Double Crook aka DC - because of the smile but also because of the petty thievery. 
Bold and friendly, she's prime adoption material, and I would not at all be astonished if Tashi Blue decided to add her to the lineup sooner rather than later - so keep watching this space!

Anyway, this is what we do!
Stay safe everybody - right now it's pretty grim, but we're all getting vaccinated and will definitely see you next year!

Monday, July 05, 2021

Grenzenlos - Video!

Toothy Bull by Ozzie Sam-  click for detail!
This was filmed just before the pandemic hit.
I happened to be away, and it never made it to the blog - so there, as a memento of much happier times.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Do Bull Sharks have Friends? New Paper!

Spoiler: maybe yes maybe not!

In brief, I opined that as their prey is comparatively scarce, evolution would select for large predatory Sharks to be solitary in order not to have to share their kills. 
But whereas that appears to be largely correct for Tigers and Whites, anecdotal evidence and some papers (and here) indicate that Bull Sharks appear to mostly travel in pairs or small groups, and I was eager to see whether our enormous data base could help shed further light on the issue. Yes our Shark feed is obviously an artificial aggregation - but I speculated that if certain individuals would preferentially turn up together, this might be a strong indicator that they might also be traveling together when not attending our dive.

The initial findings were promising.
The data showed some unequivocal, albeit rather weak long-term associations as illustrated e.g. in the following sociogram.

Sociogram depicting the social ties between individual bull sharks observed on the study site on ≥34 dives for the time period from 2011 (C). Only GAI values in the highest 30% were included to highlight the strongest associations between dyads, with thicker edges indicating higher GAIs for both individuals observed throughout the entire sampling period (red nodes), and individuals which were not observed throughout the entire sampling period (blue nodes) - click for detail.
Me too, initially - but then came the crux with the bloody interpretation!
Did those Sharks really turn up together because they like each other? Or was it because their core ranges overlap with the Shark Reef Marine Reserve = they just happen to live in the vicinity? Or because they share some behavioral trait that makes them bolder/more curious/more opportunistic/weaker hunters = more prone to visit our feed? Or are they maybe the remnants of a cohort of siblings who stayed together in the river nursery and have traveled together ever since? Questions questions!
Short answer: who knows - which is kinda disappointing!

But, we now have a starting point.
Those numbers in the sociogram all correspond to known individual Sharks, and somebody could now invest some time into observing how they actually interact during the dive - and assuming that the visual observations confirm the initial evidence, one could then try and equip selected individuals with adequate sensors like cameras and/or say, business card tags to see what happens once the Sharks leave Shark Reef and/or take tissue samples to determine their relatedness, etc.
Yes that's a lot of work - but that's what we do, so keep watching this space!

Long story short, so far so good!
Enjoy the new paper
PS - Juerg here, courtesy of Tom.
IMO the semantics are a lot of splitting of hairs (= do we KNOW that they're not friends?), the more as I believe that some are, and that some (like Blunt and Maite) are very much the contrary - but then again who am I to say!
So thanks for the publicity, much appreciated!

PPS - another really nice piece here - well done!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Surfing Reefies - Paper!

Very cool.
But first, watch.

This is DV footage from 2005, from an old edit.
I was staying at Sané and Annabelle's epic Tetamanu Village and was fortunate to catch the magic moment when the sun reflects off the Sharks on an early morning incoming tide - and for you insiders, the first two clips are from the challenging trou aux requins in Apataki.

Notice how the Sharks are barely moving? 
They are literally surfing the current - and here's the according paper courtesy of Yannis, Johann, Serge, Charlie et al, inclusive of how they use a conveyor-belt positioning system to ensure that the groups remain stationary over the most advantageous spots.
Story here.