Friday, October 10, 2014

Shark Reef Marine Reserve - breaking News!

I'm over the moon!
But first, watch this.

Did you see it, right at the end?
Yes, we've just received the official notification that from its humble beginnings as one of dozens of locally managed MPAs in the country, the SRMR has now been upgraded to a National Marine Park - the very first one in Fiji!

Oh boy has this been an adventure!
It is the result of a whopping 11 years of constant advocacy and cajoling all the way to begging: hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, dozens of formal meetings and position papers, several governments, multiple ministers, five different village chiefs chairing numerous village meetings with ever changing village committees, having to wait for the outcome of the ultimately failed Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign, and the list goes on and on and on. And mind you: all these years and enormous effort had to be invested into a conservation project that was completely undisputed and where every single stakeholder had given his approval since the very beginning!
This just as an aside and as a warning to those groups that want to quickly parachute in and get fast results and instant gratification - this is not how Fiji works!

But in the end, we've pulled it off.
We are highly grateful to Government and specifically, to Frank Bainimarama for not only having single-handedly saved our sorry ass back then in 2010, but for getting Cabinet to finally endorse it. And an enormous shout-out goes to Aisake Batibasaga, Principal Research Officer at the Department of Fisheries, for his unwavering support and encouragement all throughout this interminable process. It is thanks to his very personal efforts that it got finally tabled, and for that we shall always be grateful to him.
Vinaka Bati, you're a good man and a good friend!

Our massive thanks also go to the village of Galoa.
Shark Reef lays within their traditional fishing grounds, and I must really say that contrary to others, working with them has always been easy, and fueled by mutual trust, respect and above all, honesty. To celebrate this event and show our appreciation, we will very shortly increase the marine park levy, with all incremental funds flowing to Galoa only.
Vinaka vakalevu!

And then there's our unmatched team.
Here's to James for having founded BAD and to Andrew for his excellent leadership, loyalty and hard work; to Papa and Nani that have been invaluable guides when navigating the treacherous waters of local protocol; to Rusi, quite possibly the world's best Shark feeder and my dive buddy who continues to inspire me every single day; and to the BAD boyz an gals that always make me so proud.

And then!
Here's to those wonderful people that have been helping us since the very beginning - for a decade of friendship, counsel and encouragement, and above all, for stellar company and shared adventures: Valerie and the late Ron, Juerg, Gary and Brenda, the Hawaii gang of Jack and his disciples John, Rob and Richard and least but not least, Alexander Goldknecht of the Shark Foundation who funded our first patrol boat, continues to fund Juerg' research and is a sponsor of the ongoing GFSC.
And to you, the many loyal friends we've made on the way, and the thousands upon thousands of visitors that have enabled us to keep going and finally achieve our vision of a tourism-based integrated Shark research and conservation project, and reach finally this milestone.
And to our detractors - your have only strengthened our resolve!
Thank you so much!

Oh yes this is long - but it has to be!
So, please, bear with me for another bit.

Back to the SRMR.
Yes in the big scheme of things, this is a nothing, a tiny insignificant speck in the vastness of the ocean - but here's why it may well be just a tad more than that.
As far as I know, this is possibly the first time anywhere that the public sector is conferring the day-to-day management of a National Marine Park to a private entity!
There will be a management committee comprising representatives from Fisheries, BAD, private societies and academia - but whereas Fisheries will always retain the final say in anything, BAD are the only operator entitled to conduct Shark dives, will regulate daily access, monitor the reef, coordinate research, and police and even enforce the fishing ban via our fish wardens. To that effect, we will be shortly conducting our fourth fish warden course, after which every single one of our staff will be a honorary park ranger with full authority to inspect vessels and catches, and apprehend perpetrators.
Methinks this public-private partnership is a great and possibly ground-breaking template, especially for developing countries with their notorious lack of resources - so you purists out there, please do consider the many advantages before summarily slamming it down!

Leaves the video.
Contrary to last time, this is obviously a professional job.
We commissioned it because we knew that something was cooking and as chance would have it, it just got completed one hour ago - in fact I'm posting this minutes after having obtained the Vimeo link! The editor is none other than Jackie's husband Dave who happens to equally be a keen Shark diver - and it sure shows, nobody else could have done it the way he has, bravo!

To be continued - and that's a promise!

PS - thank you Martin!
PPS - Manta Trust here. Thanks!


Lindsay L. Graff said...

A HUGE congratulations to Mike and his outstanding team at BAD! You all should be so proud of the incredible and tireless amount of work that has gone into making this feat possible. Again, I always feel so blessed for every day that I have spent with the beautiful sharks of SRMR and the amazing Beqa Adventure Divers :)

Allen Walker said...

This is just wonderful news Mike, well done to you and the team!!!! Definitely a huge victory and one the should resound all around the world as the only way to go if we want to protect our Oceans.

Ian Campbell said...

This is truly fantastic news, and the consequences of this cannot be overstated.

If managed properly we will have a private/public partnership that is not just economically viable & enforceable, but will also provide conservation benefits, local community benefits and show that well thought out shark feeding sites are not just ways to profit from sharks.

This could, no, WILL be the acorn of a very big tree.

Tim of the Deep said...

TO quote CSN&Y... "it's beeen a long time coming"!!

Congrats and thank you for the diligence.

BAD is BAD!!!!



Angelo Villagomez said...

Congrats, and have fun in French Polynesia.

Karen Stone said...

Fantastic, congratulations what a great achievement after a lot of hard and dilligent work by all involved and all that have supported.

Sam Cahir said...

Wow, I must admit I never thought I'd see the day. But then again knowing you I should have known better ;-). I am so very proud of you mate. Your tenacity, determination and well just plain doggedness is what got this over the line. Well deserved, well strategised and well done mate!!!! Onward and upward for SRMR or should I say SRNMR :-)

Patric Douglas said...

Well done to your entire team Sir!

Mike, I have to say, I am truly impressed, you and your guys/gals have always lead from in front when it comes to conservation and sharks.

Metrics for success, thank God we have them in BAD.

Also, very cool to celebrate everyone who had a hand in this.

Kudos again,

Patric Douglas
Ex Shark Diver CEO

Mark Thorpe said...

Well done mate, some magic still happens when you chase it with dogged determination. To the complete crew there too, well done for the long haul. Kudos.

The Sharkman said...

This Is Jawsome News from my friends in Fiji. After 11 long years of hard work and dedication the results are truly well deserved.

My heartfelt Congrats To MIKE and his B.A.D. Team and everyone else involved.

jsd said...

Congratulations, Mike, to everyone involved in this landmark (watermark?) achievement. I am just back online after my computer got zapped by lightning and this great news turned a good day into a great one.

Lill Haugen said...

Finally! Great news for sharks - and divers! Well done my friends - I am very happy and very proud of you! (and I can't wait to go back, to dive in a proper Marine PARK!) :D WANANAVU!! - Lill

Gary Adkison said...

My Heart Sings with absolute joy, Mike! I know so well the sweat equity you, the crew and so many countless others invested in finally making this National Park a reality! Thanks to you, Mike,for your perseverance, your insight and vision and simply..... damned stubbornness! Brenda and I are humbled and honored to have been along on this ride and to have watched a wonderful evolution take place. From an incredible shark dive site and preserve, to a dedicated crew who proudly shared their sharks and Fijian culture, to Juerg's extensive shark research and finally the ultimate reward of a National Park. Somewhere, I know Rusi is smiling down on all of you! Congratulations do not even begin to express how proud we all are of this remarkable accomplishment!!

Jayne jenkins said...

Such a wonderful outcome from an amazing and dedicated crew - lead by one incredibly strong and never giving up mam. Well done, well deserved . It is a shame that there are not more "Mikes" in this world.