Saturday, November 27, 2010

Playa del Carmen - Lessons?

Please read this.
Yes that was two years ago and one would have hoped that by now, everybody had understood that message, maybe with one addendum: you need to get the local stakeholders involved.

I'm sure you know what happened in Playa del Carmen.
And if not, there's a plethora of newspaper articles and blog posts bemoaning the killing of nine pregnant Bull Sharks with approx 50 pups and the damage this has inflicted to the Shark population, the dive shops and the community in general. As a reaction, we now have an advocacy group, petitions and shark advocates calling for the protection of the Sharks during the season.
That's a good thing and fingers crossed that it's not too late.

What is not good is that it did not have to come to this.
A friend writes, I was never a fan on Phantom Divers in Mexico and yes, I dove that site quite a while back. It seems to me they have been hamfisting the encounters from day one. Probably too harsh but the fact is, this was obviously poorly planned and executed and as Steven Spencer correctly remarks, the feeding has undoubtedly aggregated the Sharks and directly led to their demise.

Where I however believe that Steven errs, is when he claims that this proves that Shark feeding dives are bad.
They are simply not. If conducted responsibly, they harm neither the animals nor the customers, provide for economic alternatives for the people who would otherwise kill the Sharks and very much contribute to dispelling the negative stereotypes.
Again, if conducted responsibly!

What this incident however does, is to once again reinforce my strong belief that we need to first and foremost assume the stewardship of the sites we develop and promote, and this from the very beginning - very much along the lines of Patric's Noblesse Oblige. Had the local dive shops and the people promoting this dive established the necessary protection and cooperated with the local communities from the outset, this would not have happened, period.

Which brings be straight over to this.

Totally EPIC - pun intended!
I really wish I could say something positive about this, the more since Oceanic Whitetips have become so critically depleted that any site offering reliable encounters is nothing short of miraculous and worthy of being promoted - if the diving is conducted responsibly!

But not like this!
Let there be no doubt that these Sharks are dangerous and that anybody conducting commercial dives with this species needs to set in place proper protocols. From Wikipedia, citing Compagno
Groups often form when individuals converge on a food source, whereupon a "feeding frenzy" may occur. This seems to be triggered not by blood in the water or by bloodlust, but by the species' highly strung and goal-directed nature (conserving energy between infrequent feeding opportunities when it is not slowly plying the open ocean). The oceanic whitetip is a competitive, opportunistic predator that exploits the resource at hand, rather than avoiding trouble in favor of a possibly easier future meal 
Interesting and probably true.
The pros have known it all along - but latest since that fateful attack in the Red Sea, everybody should know that snorkeling with Oceanic Whitetips is just plain stupid, the more as the Sharks are highly inquisitive and will readily approach SCUBA divers and allow for those coveted in-your-face wide-angle shots anyway. As to hand feeding those Silkies whilst on snorkel and without wetsuit - oh well, whatever.

Now, it appears, this site is about to go mainstream.
This was once one of Jimmy's discoveries and signature dives sites that would experience sporadic visits by the Shear Water. Next year, it appears, the Sharks will be subjected to a solid six weeks (click on Diving) of daily baiting.

Will that aggregate the Sharks? Will it change their behavior?
And if so: is anybody developing bomb-proof commercial Shark diving protocols and much more importantly, is anybody talking to the local stakeholders, namely the game and the commercial fishermen to at least develop some local consensus about their value to the local economy and the need to preserve this valuable resource? Yes there's a push for the nation-wide protection of all Sharks in the Bahamas - but this is not a done deal quite yet, and those Whitetips that are being publicized and aggregated may well still be fair game in April, meaning that any Shark fisherman wanting to kill them may do so in total impunity.
What can be done to prevent that?

Please, think about it.
Please, learn the lessons from Playa del Carmen.


Robert said...

When I was in the Bahamas in May photographing the oceanic whitetips we had heard the fishermen on other boats saying to "kill as many as you can". They were upset about losing their catch because of the sharks.
Everytime a boat had reversed their engines the sharks would leave the chum line & take off for the boat.
The divers have not conditioned the sharks because we don't feed them but the fishing boats have conditioned the sharks because they learned that when a boat backs down there is a struggling mahi,wahoo or marlin on the line.

The sharks we saw were definitely not habituated to dive boats or aggregated to one area. We were way off shore in very deep water, and moved around quite a bit every day and multiple times throughout the day.
We have even heard off drunken americans shooting tiger sharks with guns "just for fun" or to "keep them away from our catch".
In my opinion, 6 weeks too much too soon for this area & frankly I don't trust the way some people run their shark diving operations.
The new land-based operation that we've heard is opening up is -- according to what we've heard -- going to be very close to shore and operating in the same spot for six weeks straight. This is a big difference. I fear that encouraging a close to shore aggregation of oceanic whitetips could cause problems that would reflect badly on shark tourism overall in the Bahamas, and could cause repercussions to the very industry that is providing the economic justification to save these sharks from the shark fin trade.
Saving sharks is more important than taking photos of them or doing some bogus self-aggrandising movie about them.

It was a big relief to hear yesterday about the vote from the ICCAT meeting to protect oceanic whitetips in the entire Atlantic Ocean. I'm not sure what this means, though, exactly, since the Bahamas is not a signatory to ICCAT.

DaShark said...

Thanks for your testimony, I had NO IDEA that the situation of the w'tips was already so bad!!!

As to EPIC diving - like before, I stick with Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to Malice that which can be adequately explained by Stupidity"