Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cat Island - Action?

Stellar pic by Lupo!

I was frankly shocked to read Robert's testimony.

Thing is, I should have known better.
Years ago, when searching for Oceanic Whitetips off the coast of the Big Island, I witnessed how game fishermen would preempt those Sharks from stealing their catches by throwing in baited drums around the FADs and letting the Sharks fight to their death whilst they went on to target their coveted billfish. The only OWT we saw in a pod of Shortfin Pilot Whales was consequently totally spooked and never came close enough for any meaningful pictures.

So, what to do?
I was hopeful that yesterday's decision by the ICCAT to protect the Oceanic Whitetips would take care of the commercial fisheries but no such luck: the Bahamas are not a contracting party. Thankfully, Patric has already taken up my last thread and proposed some meaningful immediate actions, re-posted by Richard here and Felix here.
Building on that, and if I had it my way which I never do, here's what I would propose.

  • Get some Bahamian allies! This will not work if the push is being viewed as coming only from some foreign Shark whacks!
  • Establish a Bahamian Oceanic Whitetip conservation and awareness website as Patric suggests, and roll it out to the operators. Any takers for doing that?
  • Define commercial Shark diving protocols. My gut would be to follow what Jimmy has already developed and successfully implemented & have the operators agree to it. Now that this has (alas!) become a multi-user site, there also needs to be some code of conduct in order to avoid crowding and multiple boats vying for the same animals. Yes that would mean that everybody operating Shark dives around Cat Island would have to talk to each other, as in self regulating. Easy! :)
  • Start new, or consolidate existing research projects and showcase them on the above website. Read Patric's suggestions.
  • Calculate the commercial value of those Sharks to the local tourism industry and go and talk to the local community. Have the local powers that be agree on not enabling the targeting of those Sharks. This thing will only fly if the locals on Cat island can be convinced that protecting Sharks is in their very own interest! Remember the fiasco of that new Shark operation on Hawaii and how it was dispatched by the locals for poor planning and lack of proper outreach! Hell, provided that they agree to some protection, one may really think about offering them a cut of the cash flow, as we do here in Fiji via our Marine Park levy! Clients love paying extra for protection!
  • If there are any, convince the local marinas to become Shark Free
  • As soon as it is official, roll out the new IGFA non-lethal, release-only length-based certification to Cat Island. Maybe even combine it with something like this to get the game fishermen on board and kick-start the research - yes it's maybe radical but is it really totally anathema, the more as it would funnel incremental income from Sharks that are being kept alive to Cat Island?
  • Integrate this whole project into the present push for a Bahamian Shark sanctuary, i.e. get the same actors involved plus produce the according media
  • Please: no activism, no demonizing, no finger pointing! This is about being constructive and showing the way for an outcome that benefits all the stakeholders, especially the local community! Remember, we're talking about developing long-term sustainable ecotourism here, not some parachute-in-parachute-out adrenaline fix before everybody flocks to the next adrenaline hotspot!
  • And finally: yes, this has got nothing to do with natural encounters and the like. But as I said elsewhere, that's nothing but wishful thinking anyway. Natural resources, if we want to preserve them, will need to be managed - and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we will be able to enact forward looking policies.
Again, just my 2¢ and by no means meant to be exhaustive or the only solution.
But it may be a good starting point.

Thing is, somebody must do something, right now!
Difficult but certainly achievable if intelligent and motivated people get their heads together, develop a pragmatic goal-oriented strategy and for once are bigger than the usual sum of big egos, petty historical feuds and personal agendas.

As a friend (yes another one!) wrote, I am wondering out loud if this site could be all that it could be. All the elements are there:
1. rare species
2. opportunity for research
3. good base of operations
4. tie in with push to get Bahamas to declare a sanctuary

Totally correct!
It really is a fabulous chance for doing it right from the outset and establishing yet another iconic Shark hot spot - if done responsibly!

We've just seen what is the alternative, so can we for once maybe learn from those mistakes.

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