Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Great Fiji Shark Count - Info!

Let me give you some background information here.

This all actually started with Juerg and Christine Ward-Paige.
Christine did publish this excellent open source paper about the value of having recreational divers count elasmobranchs and in the lively discussion that ensued, Juerg proposed and Christine very graciously accepted to test the concept here in Fiji. Christine has currently another job but she will provide for the scientific oversight and analyze the data under the umbrella of eShark, and this completely on her own time and with no incremental funding! Potential donors: hint hint - funding this will make you shine for many years to come!
Christine thank you!

Fiji is of course the ideal destination for this endeavor.
Thankfully and in spite of the recent highly disturbing developments, we do still have a reasonable number of Sharks and Rays, and even Turtles.
Plus, the dive and tourism industry is tight knit and forward looking, as witnessed by the many past initiatives that were able to unite everybody around a common goal.
In 2008, we had the first tourism-based Great Butterflyfish Count that was repeated in 2009 and then alas fizzled out for lack of funding.
In 2009, Fiji organized the only nation-wide initiative to celebrate the Year of the Shark, the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project with various government departments, the tourism industry and several NGOs contributing to make this Fiji's first country-wide Shark campaign. 2009 also saw the only nation-wide drive to contribute to the Shark Free Marinas Initiative where to this day, Fiji is one of the principal participants.
In 2010 we took a breather to launch our own initiative aimed at protecting vital habitat and Shark nurseries whilst cleaning up our carbon footprint, Mangroves for Fiji, only to announce mission accomplished late last year.
2011 then saw the rolling out of the Fiji Shark Sanctuary Campaign where a plethora of largely unheralded events further contributed to Shark awareness all the way to the local grass-roots level.
Long story short: there sure is track record!

Enter the local project team.
She won't like me saying it but IMO, Helen Sykes of Marine Ecology Consulting is Fiji's most pugnacious, and thus most efficient and strictly (as opposed to agenda- and money-) goal oriented marine conservation professional for which she has all of my respect - and this despite her being dead-set against the feeding of any wildlife inclusive of Sharks, something that will regularly pitch us in super-heated debates where we pull no punches but always end up smiling as we both understand this to be an excellent means of furthering our knowledge! Anyway, it is great news that she has once again accepted to take the lead in this, like she did for the Butterflyfish Count of which this is the logical crescendo - and let's face it, Sharks are way sexier than Butterfly Fishes! :)
Same-same for Stuart Gow of Resort Support who has been our friend and advisor for many, many years. Among many other things, he is the current Chairman of the Dive Commission of the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association, i.e. the highest representative of Fiji's dive industry. He is also a Director of Matava and in that incarnation, he has been instrumental in making Fiji Shark Free. Stuart is acting as our web- and spin-master, and having him help us behind the scenes is a phenomenal asset indeed!
And then there is Nani, Arthur and our new marine scientist Chris of BADs conservation brand SRMR that will be assisting in a thousand ways when it comes to keeping up the daily dialogue and coordination among the participants - and yes, yours truly will just sit back, continue hiding behind his computer and rant about others as always! :)

Please also check out our partners.
These are the people who are contributing money, or money and lots of passionate work like Samantha Whitcraft of Shark Savers. Sam is the indefatigable! driver of Shark Savers' Sharks Count program and as such, she has been an invaluable team member who has contributed money, leadership and know how but above all, an inordinate amount of work.
Then there are the pillars of reliability and generosity when it comes to sponsoring Juerg's research (blog here!) in Fiji, the unequaled Shark Foundation and Save our Seas Foundation.
And finally, there is Ocean Soaps, a division of Punjas who already greatly assisted in the Butterflyfish Count.
And I also want to mention the great photographers and friends who have donated images!
Thank you all!

And how about you?
If you so wish and decide to come to Fiji in April, you can partake in the first nation-wide Shark count anywhere!

To do that, follow the instructions here.
And before the usual geniuses start whispering that this is just about BAD making a buck: we have been counting Sharks since 2003 and thus your contribution would be most significant elsewhere! As the dive ops and resorts will start confirming their participation, the list of participants will grow and I urge you to go and help them and not us, always by mentioning that you're coming for the Count!
You can then always book a couple of Shark dives at the end as a treat and reward - and if you prove that you've taken part in the Count, we'll throw in a little something extra for you, how about that! :)

Now to be precise.
The aim is not to find out how many Sharks there are in Fiji!
For that, one would have to try and mobilize everybody everywhere, something that is impossible and would be fraught with immense costs, immense logistical problems and a staggering margin of error!
The aim here is to do a first random sampling and to then regularly repeat the exercise in the same locations. This way, we would be able to establish a first baseline and the starting point of long term monitoring via so-called transects (i.e. your dives, snorkeling excursions and even game fishing trips) which is an excellent scientific tool that will enable us to eventually detect a trend.

And the practical application?
As an example, should the Shark Sanctuary eventuate, the trend would provide for a confirmation (or lack of) of its effectiveness and thus be a great educational tool for policymakers. And should the Sanctuary not eventuate, I fear that the trend will document the rapid decline of Shark stocks and the absolute necessity of immediate conservation measures.
But that is then and it will take several years to make those statements, especially considering the fact that the vagaries of the ENSO will add a good amount of variation and unpredictability, like they have done to our own Shark data.

So, please, give it some thought.
I know it's sort of short notice: but it's cool and fun and above all, it's good solid and innovative science!

See you in April!

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