Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saving the Bahamas Tigers

There has been a lot of brouhaha about a series of images depicting the killing and butchering of a pregnant Tiger Shark in the Bahamas. Here they are.
I'm obviously outraged and saddened.

Several Shark Diving blogs have posted them along with scathing comments and much energy has been invested in trying to ferret out the perpetrators. So far, it seems, they haven't been identified, nor the exact location and circumstances of this despicable act.

Question is: then what?
Are we going to inundate them with hate mail once we know who they are? Write more blog posts? Contact the mainstream media? Launch petitions?
And if so, is that going to make them behave differently in the future? Is that going to save a single Shark? And even if the answer is yes, would that be the most effective way to channel our frustration?

Thing is, people like that think that we're just a bunch of whackos anyway and could not care less about our opinion.
And why should they. What they do is perfectly legal and "Sport" Fishing has a following numbering in the millions and disposes of a well-organized and powerful lobby that will easily dispose of such a minor inconvenience.
It is also very good business for many Island Nations, one of them being the Bahamas.

Wanna see what those people are really capable of?
I pulled the above pic from the image gallery of Mark "The Shark" Quartiano, a mega-asshole and VIP favorite operating out of not some oscure Third World Country, but Florida, USA. A guy like that doesn't even get nailed when he kills protected species, like the Bigeye Thresher depicted. There are 1073 pictures, 90 pages of murdered Sharks - and this by just one man and one boat!

Keeping that in mind, do you really believe that our outrage and let's face it, our hopelessly incestuous blogging, petitioning and clamoring is going to make any difference at all?
Hardly - unless we take it to the next level.
But if we do, I'm convinced that we do in fact have an excellent chance for success.

No, not in having recreational Shark Fishing banned in general, that would just be delusional.
What we need to do is to heed this as a wake-up call that something has to happen. When it comes to the Tiger Sharks in the Bahamas, I believe that we should stop whining and instead focus our energy on making a real contribution to Conservation, and that right where it really matters to us. As Shark Diver (yes them again..) correctly remarks, now is the time for action and not only words.

Here's what I believe can be done.
Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm by no means an expert in Bahamian diving and have no clue of the "politics" and the like - but the impression I get is this.

We all know about the uniqueness and popularity of Tiger Beach.
It has been featured "everywhere" and has become one of the world's safest, most reliable and most widely published hotspots for diving with macro Sharks. Everybody who has been there raves about it and it is consequently attracting more and more tourists, film crews and scientists, to the point that bookings have now to be made months in advance - and this despite of an increase of dive Operators targeting that site. It is safe to assume that all of this it is very good business indeed.

On the negative side, lacking any established user protocols, there is an incipient issue of overcrowding. Some documented incidents show a trend towards ever more reckless, and thus dangerous interactions with the Sharks. There is a bitter ongoing feud between the Bahamian dive Operators and those Operators visiting the site from the US. There's another feud between "established" Operators and perceived interlopers. The site's notoriety is also increasingly attracting Shark fishermen who can legally target the animals.

I've said it before, if one disregards the feuds, politics and history, the crux of the problem is that Tiger Beach is not being protected.
Now, wouldn't that be a wonderful opportunity and challenge for somebody? To make a real difference?
Do I hear "Petition", "Ethics", "Image", "Public Opinion" and the like?
C'mon guys - get serious.

In Banking, we have a saying that Money talks, Bullshit walks.
The Bahamas are a poor Island Nation which is desperately dependent on Tourism income. Which begs the question, how much do the Bahamas get from the Shark Tourism to Tiger Beach?
In licensing fees from the Operators? Directly from the Divers? In ancillary revenues by the Tourism Industry as in flights, meals, accomodation, souvenirs, duty free sales, gambling etc etc? In terms of local employment? In berthing fees, fuel sales, shipyard business?

And how much income do the Bahamas derive from the Sport Fishing business?
Get the gist?

Thing is, it doesn't have to be that way.
Think about e.g Cocos or the Galapagos - and the solution could be this.
  • Tiger Beach is declared a Marine Sanctuary - and thus fishing there is being outlawed
  • there is a code of conduct and access is being regulated
  • any Operator wanting to work there will need to obtain and pay for an according license that can be revoked if he infringes on the regulations
  • when a vessel operates there, there is a daily park fee for the vessel and each of the customers
  • ideally, that money is being used for enforcement, along with the obligation, and authority of each Operator to be of assistance
Is there anybody over there in the Bahamas or in the neighboring US who would like to step up to the plate and get the job done? As in, talking to the Bahamian Authorities and having it implemented?

But, I hear you ask, isn't that a mission for somebody "important", a powerful NGO or the like? Hell No! Anybody can do it!
Me, a nobody, did something very similar all by myself in Fiji, and then expanded on the concept with the help of BAD that was created for just that purpose. And I'm proud to report that others are now proudly reporting our achievements!
But I'm digressing. Shame on me.

Back to the Bahamas.
Run the math and you'll see that it's a compelling case, an easy sell.
It's not like you would be asking for some wide-ranging legislation, or the like. In the big scheme of things, Tiger Beach is nothing but a small speck in the middle of nowhere and you would be providing the Authorities with a viable concept, incremental income, good publicity, even the formula for enforcement!
Why would they ever say no? For them, there's only upside!

Will it be tedious, difficult and controversial? Not really!
Will the Operators gnash their teeth and try to convince us that such a measure would mean the demise of the business they run? Sure they will - but, does Cocos work? And the Galapagos? I mean, business-wise? The fact is, Clients love to pay for Conservation and most of the incremental costs could easily be passed on to them. Will their numbers dwindle because of that increase in price? Certainly not!
Granted, the "code of conduct" may deter some of the more "demanding" Clients - but how much of the target customer base would that really be? Provided that the ever-present Huggers don't get the upper hand when formulating the rules (and we can pre-empt that by proposing those rules ourselves), I can very well imagine a set of protocols that would improve on safety whilst still offering a great experience to the Clients. Isn't that what we should be striving for anyway? Wouldn't it be fair to anticipate that a protected site featuring more "orderly" protocols may even attract more Clients?

Makes sense? Any takers?

Hell, it's such a no-brainer that I might even decide to do it myself!
Just imagine the huge blow to the egos , and the reputation of the concerned Operators, Shark lovers and Shark user groups if some loudmouthed bozo from the South Pacific parachuted in and managed to pull this off right in their own back yard!
And if he then would publicly flaunt them for not having protected their own Sharks due to their laziness, narrow-mindedness and petty bickering. After having been shown how to do it!

Because, believe me - and if you don't, go ask my friends: that's exactly what I would do!
And that's a Promise!


Unknown said...

Hi - Wolf and I are working on a proposal...will share when completed.

DaShark said...

I'm impressed - good on 'ya guys!

Patric & Dom got my e-mail.
I'm quite sure that I can facilitate should u require contacts. Drop me a message anytime, I'll be happy to help in any way deemed useful.

Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

This is a pretty epic post mate. It deserves it's own page and we will follow up in the new year with this.

Your ideas are as solid as it gets. As you know Wolf and Felix have this and are running with it.

As non aligned lovers of sharks i think they can get consensus and help from quarters we cannot and others cannot due to site toxicity.

We'll need your voice on this both in the planning phase and execution if you have some time.

We added a blurb on our website about this and will throw everything short of the kitchen sink at it when a proposal is done.

Happy New Year.

DaShark said...


You too, MerryHappy!

You'll find me in Fiji should you need to get in contact - and yes, of course I have time! That's what I do, remember?

Having said this, my call is, do NOT make this a community project... the "right" people talking to the "right" people will make this happen, "activism" will sink it. I know u know what I mean (:

Cheers, Mike

El-Gee said...

just bumped into this. was it ever achieved, 5 years down the line? (Im just asking, I don't know the answer). cheers

DaShark said...

Thanks to Pew, the Bahamas are now a Shark Sanctuary.

But game fishing for Sharks is legal and I still believe that TB should be declared off-limits to any fishing, whether take or catch-and-release.

El-Gee said...

thanks for the reply.

I agree for sure.

but indeed the whole waters being a shark sanctuary is a massive achievement.