Saturday, February 28, 2015

Natural Predation on invasive Lionfish!

Source - read it!

And I cite.
Seen any Fish population explode as of late?
Yes we have: Lionfish in the Caribbean! But those are invasive introduced species that so far lack any predators - betcha that in 10 years, the picture will be vastly different!
That was yours truly three years ago.
And now, it appears, some Caribbean predators are already, slowly slowly, developing a taste for those Lionfish.

Stories here and here
Pretty cool - but of course for that to work, we need predators! 
And when it comes to the latter, sobering research reveals that matters in the Caribbean are far from ideal, and yes that would be a gross understatement. But I stick to my prediction - coupled with human intervention that is effective and remains vital, this issue is likely to resolve itself.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, February 27, 2015


Fish Rock, South West Rocks where it all happens! Source.

This is one of Mark's dives.

Wonderful stuff.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fiji - Bleaching Alert!


This is not good news.

So far, on Shark Reef, things look good.
We've very recently commissioned a report, and it attests good to very good Coral cover; and having gone walkabout to check for Fishes in anticipation of an imminent visit by a gaggle of professional Fish geeks, I was actually particularly happy to notice countless buds of Acropora on the frontal reef slope.

We shall see - and no, alas I'm not particularly hopeful.
Normally we get hit by a double whammy as whatever survives the bleaching gets nailed by the Crown-of-Thorns - so fingers crossed.

To be continued.

Goodbye, Shark Lady.

We mourn the passing of Genie Clark.

She was a great researcher and I hear, a great person, too.
Eulogy by Nat Geo here, bio here, and here is a touching reminiscence by Andrew who knew her well.

Let us celebrate her life, and never forget.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Indonesia - good News!

You really got to read this.

Indeed, who would have thought.
I've dived in Indonesia since '87 and have seen many places regress from stellar to average to desolate as the Chinese cyanide fishermen selectively extirpated the big Groupers and Napoleon Wrasses and thousands upon thousands of poor small scale fishermen did bomb and strip mine the reefs for protein. 
By 2002 good reef diving could only be found in a select few protected places like Wakatobi and Komodo, and the general outlook was grim - so it's really fantastic to hear that things are looking up!

So here's to those committed people that have made a difference.
Thank you!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Top 10 Shark Dives From Whale Sharks to Great White Sharks!

Great pic by Brandon Cole!

Found by David.

Yes it's an oldie.
But people still like it, and # 8 is one of the most accurate and insightful descriptions of the Fiji Shark Dive I've ever read.

Thanks Jillian, appreciate! :)

Shark Strike in the Azores - Debate!

Oh for crying out loud!

Have you seen this?
Spare yourselves the 40 bucks - in essence, the article recounts how a Blue Shark bit the fin of a pal of the authors, and this thusly.
An Unprovoked Attack by a Blue Shark Prionace glauca (Chondrichthyes: Carcharhinidae) on a Spear Fisherman in Terceira Island, Azores, Northeast Atlantic

On July 24, 2013, near a shallow water rocky reef approximately 50 m from the coastline, a 48-year-old spear fisherman was surprised by a blue shark that bit his right flipper. The incident occurred on the South coast of Terceira Island, Azores, Portugal, Northeast Atlantic, where a shark attack or conflict is a very rare phenomenon, having only 3 minor incidents previously recorded...

Late afternoon the spear fisherman entered the water and swam away from the adjacent fishing port, now converted into a leisure summer area, toward the tip of the adjacent rocky reef. 
There, he saw a school of Atlantic Bonito, Sarda sarda (Bloch, 1793) and immediately dove to place himself in a position suitable to target one of the fish swimming in front of him. As he descended to a depth of approximately 10 m, he felt his right foot being pushed and turned his head to see an approximately 2.1 m total length blue shark biting his flipper...

At the same time, he reported that at least 5 more similar-size blue sharks were close by, and he was able to chase the first specimen away simply by touching it with his left leg. The sharks disappeared, and the victim continued to fish in that same area with no further sightings.
And then the authors have the audacity to attribute the incident to Shark feeding as follows.
These offshore, mainly pelagic species do have coastal habits when in close proximity to oceanic islands, as happens to be the Azores. Moreover, they are attracted by tourist operators with feeding stimuli and may be already in the process of associating these stimuli with humans, namely, divers. Contrary to well-known coastal sites where this practice is common and local sharks seem to have residential habits while becoming conditioned by specific diving sites, Azorean targeted species roam vast areas and far away from the open water zones where they are mainly attracted.

In spite of the fact that some of the most dangerous species are seldom seen in the Azores, we believe that this practice of proximity and feeding stimuli to open water nonresident sharks is potentially dangerous and may well lead to more, possibly very serious, accidents in Azorean waters in the future.
In our opinion, close proximity of large predatory vertebrates to humans may well lead to accidents that sometimes may even be lethal. Apex predators, when accustomed to being enticed with food by humans, either for tourist purposes or from simple curiosity, are known to increase attacks.
Changes in shark behavior due to touristic activities such as “shark diving” were also documented by Hammerschlag et al.

We do think that care and common sense must surely prevail in these cases, while dealing with situations than can easily get out of control and lead to serious risks and overwhelming panic situations, which, if nothing else, will inevitably affect tourist activities as a whole.
Not so fast, says Juerg.
Here is his reply, unabridged.
Shark Attacks and Shark Diving 

To the Editor:
It is with great astonishment and concern that I read the letter to the editor by Barreiros et al in which the authors report an attack by a blue shark on a spear fisherman in the Azores.
Whereas the first part of the article accurately details the circumstances of the accident, Barreiros et al, in the second part,devise a far-fetched and illegitimate connection with shark div ing, in particular with shark feeding.

Shark-induced human injuries are among those inter actions between humans and wildlife that arguably receive the most media and public attention.
The general arguments of shark feeding critics are that 1) luring or feeding sharks over a period of time has the potential to condition them and that this conditioning could lead to sharks associating the presence of humans with food; and by insinuation, 2) make them aggressive toward humans. This in turn could lead to 3) an increase in accidents (eg bites)at shark feeding sites when no food is provided. Concern also exists that 4) regular shark feeding at ecotourism sites may increase the risk of shark attacks on ocean users in surrounding areas.

The first argument is beyond scientific controversy.
There is ample empiric evidence that elasmobranchs can be conditioned and are capable of learning to associate, for example, specific locations with food rewards. Recent studies looking at long-term trends in shark abundance at such sites have found numbers,at least of certain species, increasing over time,which further supports the quite unsurprising conclusion that sharks can learn to associate specific locations with food. It is this very capability shark diving operators capitalize on to set up profitable and sustainable businesses. No empiric evidence exists that would support the other 3arguments.

If shark feeding critics implicitly deduce them from the first argument,one has no other choice than to assume that what critics mean is not sharks “associating” humans with food, but “regarding” them as a food source. This could be viewed as semantics, but they are the very arguments on which authorities have based the implementation of legislation on shark feeding bans.
For example, in 2 highly publicized cases in 2002, Florida and Hawaii banned the practice of shark feeding while diving or snorkeling in their respective state waters.

Barreiros et al use a certainly tragic but single shark accident to fire an unsubstantiated broadside at the nascent shark diving industry in the Azores.
If shark feeding critics are serious about their assertion that sharks regard humans as food, then it is time to come up with fact sand figures. In doing so, the results of the respective studies will add to the objectification of the public discourse about feeding sharks as a tourism attraction. If shark feeding critics continue to refuse to address the respective questions by applying the scientific method, then their arguments remain what they currently are: tendentious and uninformed.

Juerg Brunnschweiler, PhD ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
And this is the riposte by the authors.
In Reply to Shark Attacks and Shark Diving

To the Editor:
 In his letter, Dr Juerg Brunnschweiler expresses both astonishment and concern regarding our paper when stating that it “devises a far-fetched and illegitimate connection with shark diving, in particular with shark feeding.”

We do not agree with Dr Brunnschweiler’s comments, because 1) our paper is not a “criticism” of either shark diving nor shark feeding but yet a description of an attack that might have had some kind of connection with the growing industry of shark diving in the Azores; 2) we clearly expressed a legitimate concern that, contrary to shark species with residential habits, the blue shark that caused this attack has pelagic habits and roams coastal areas of oceanic islands, and is the only species targeted by the Azores commercial shark diving companies; 3) the possibility—although rare—of interactions with humans and eventual attacks are real and may cause collateral damage to man upstream and downstream areas of maritime tourism in the Azores; and 4) panic and disproportionate fear, something that is worldwide associated with sharks, are critical issues and may lead to other types of accidents.

We understand and respect the diving operators’ will to capitalize on this specific niche of tourism. 
However, we think that it is our duty and even a responsible obligation to describe well documented events and discuss them within the scientific community. Throughout the world, many accidents presenting several degrees of gravity do occur. However, it is known that many remain unreported, either because they occur in remote areas or because there are many types of political pressures to avoid their knowledge precisely not to harm some types of touristic initiatives. That is one of the reasons why Dr Brunnschweiler’s comment when asking for “facts and figures” is so difficult to achieve.

And yet,in his last paragraph, DrBrunnschweiler expresses a very inelegant affirmation when he doubts our ability to use the “scientific method.”
We are certain that he knows perfectly well that we did use it, but numbers do not appear—and probably that will remain as it is for a long time simply because (and may we add, fortunately) shark attacks are rare.

Our arguments are precautionary and cautious.
Enticing predators and especially apex predators with food will lead to conflicts between humans and wildlife, and these happen all the time and in many places. This is not the first time that the description of an attack with a discussion on possible causes is criticized, and we thank Dr Brunnschweiler for doing precisely that. Discussing these aspects, however, may well lead to more caution and common sense when dealing with these types of animals. That will certainly improve human-wildlife relations, reduce conflicts, and certainly diminish high degrees of intolerance toward wildlife—and that will ultimately be of great help in protecting precisely these animals, including sharks.

In conclusion,we would like to add that, apparently, Dr Brunnschweiler expressed his legitimate concern for the industry of shark diving. We express our deep concern on behalf of the welfare of both humans and sharks.
Deep concern huh.
My take?
  • First, there is ONE scenario whereby the authors would be correct.
    That is, if some fool had been feeding Blue Sharks on that reef 50 meters away from the adjacent fishing port, now converted into a leisure summer area. I've said it before: location matters, and establishing a Shark feeding dive right in front of a tourist area would be utterly reckless and negligent, and the authors would be absolutely correct in asserting likely causality and being deeply concerned.
    But I don't think that's the case as every single picture of Blue Sharks from the Azores has been clearly taken in open ocean.
And if so, the assertion by the authors that they did use the scientific method is just plain ludicrous. Yes n=1 really does generally not allow for any deep insights, and Shark strikes are rare and thus elude science - and in fact, had they attributed the strike to the alignment of Mars and Jupiter, their finding would have had the exact same degree of veracity!
With that in mind, it would have been perfectly OK had they simply reported the incident - but once they started to speculate about the likely cause, then the scientific method would have mandated to examine all the possible scenarios and not simply jump to conclusions and blast what is obviously their pet hate, and this without a single shred of evidence.
So there.
  • Blue Sharks are big, bold and potentially dangerous.
    Yes they do not figure prominently in the Shark attack statistics - but that is both a figment of those statistics and also due to the fact that they are epipelagic and that there are usually not a lot of people perambulating in the open ocean. But as those gruesome shipwreck tales from WWII amply illustrate, large epipelagic Sharks will certainly investigate and eat people and thus, the surprise of the authors that a Blue Shark would approach, investigate and nip their pal is rather naive.

  • Incidentally, that's also not how a conditioned Shark would approach a person.
    As anybody that dives with fed Sharks can attest, they don't sneak in and then take a nip - that's typical of wild Sharks. Sharks that expect to be fed approach openly from the front and linger waiting for a handout.
  • But what were those half-dozen Sharks doing there in the first place?
    As the authors assert, the species is known to frequent coastal areas of oceanic islands so that's hardly surprising. In this case, it appears plausible that they may have been following their prey = those Atlantic Bonito, an equally epipelagic species that may in turn have been coming to the coast to feed.
  • Or maybe not.
    Maybe the cause for the presence of those Sharks was that the reef is frequently being used by spear fishermen. Or maybe it was the proximity to that fishing port. 
    Because let us never forget who feeds and conditions the Sharks: fishermen
    Spear fishermen produce fish blood and vibrations, attract Sharks and are frequently victims of Shark strikes. Fishermen feed Sharks with millions upon millions of baited hooks, clean their catch and discard bycatch, and specifically those Blues have been following fishing boats into port since time immemorial.  
    If there has to be talk of conditioning, that it is THAT the authors should have been focusing on, not a few people baiting with tiny scraps!
  • And what about the assertions that apex predators, when accustomed to being enticed with food by humans, either for tourist purposes or from simple curiosity, are known to increase attacks and that enticing predators and especially apex predators with food will lead to conflicts between humans and wildlife, and these happen all the time and in many places.

    Welcome to the fucking old tired "don't feed the Bear" argument!
    Yes "they" happen - but so far, when it comes to those big Sharks, that is simply not the case! Whereas accidental bites on feeders do happen, strikes let alone fatal ones on participating tourists are exceedingly rare, and any correlation (let alone causality) between Shark feeding and Shark strikes on the public at large is completely speculative and not at all supported by the evidence.

    In fact, and yes I'm repeating myself, people who feed large Sharks are acutely aware that it is dangerous and are exerting tremendous caution and common sense - and as a consequence, the danger of those activities is significantly smaller than interactions with other marine life (including smaller Sharks) that are being viewed as more harmless; and it is orders of magnitude safer than "normal" diving! 

  • In fact, if anybody had to be reprimanded, then it would have been the victim, for being totally reckless: for potentially attracting Sharks to a tourist area, for spearfishing at dusk when predators are known to feed and above all, for not immediately leaving the water but instead continuing to spear fish after having been nipped!

  • And finally.
    That will certainly improve human-wildlife relations, reduce conflicts, and certainly diminish high degrees of intolerance toward wildlife—and that will ultimately be of great help in protecting precisely these animals, including sharks.

    What a load of sanctimonious horse shit!
    Fishermen target Sharks for money - not because they hate them for biting people! That argument is frankly so stupid to be embarrassing!
    Want to save those Blues? Take a boat to Vigo and tell those fishermen to stop targeting the Azorean Blue Shark nurseries - or at least stop wasting people's time and patience with BS, and work on making a stock assessment and on implementing a management plan for sustainable Blue Shark fishing in the Azores!
    That's how real scientists contribute to Shark conservation!

  • And one very last remark: how the fuck did this manage to get a pass by the peer review?
Long story short?
It's exactly like Juerg states: this is not science but total bullshit, nothing more than a completely unsubstantiated broadside against the nascent Shark feeding industry in the Azores, and this clearly not based on the evidence but driven by one's uninformed prejudices.

And yes I can leave it at that.
Not impressed and once again, rather pissed off!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Blood Splatter Sharknado!


Need I say more!

Naughtylus - Healing in Bull Sharks!

Remember this post?

That was less than three weeks ago.
We've observed the miraculous healing process ever since - but today she did come close enough for a decent capture. The pic at the top is from February 3, the one below from today - click for detail.

Amazing isn't it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reunion - first Insights!

Do you speak French?

If so, watch this.
If not, try Google-translating this
Some of those preliminary results are rather surprising, and I look forward to hearing whether those insights will be confirmed as the research continues.

Bon film et bonne lecture!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Ocean is no Place for the Ignorant, the Arrogant and the Craven!


Sez the Grand Mufti of conservation BS!

That would be the same dude who tells his naive volunteers that they must be prepared to risk their life, or whatever, when they go molesting the Japs in Antarctica - only to then do a strategic runner when confronted with the prospect of having to proudly justify his heroic actions in court!

Anyway, have you seen this shit?
A prominent Shark conservation advocate writes, I have no words to describe this piece.
Not me - so there.
  • Shark attacks are on the rise.

    Maybe - but not last year.
    Yes the long term trend may well be ascending - but if one factors in population growth and the ever increasing number of aquatic recreationists = potential victims, the overall, already infinitesimally small per-capita risk of Shark strikes may even be decreasing!
    This however with caveats, see below!
  • To start with, we are diminishing bio-diversity in the ocean. Overfishing has removed 90% of the fish from the sea since 1950. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of decline. This is not just bad news for humans who eat fish, but it is very bad news for sharks, orcas, whales, seals and dolphins who have no choice but to eat fish. In other words, starvation is a very big motivation for opportunistic attacks.

    What a load of horseshit - predator/prey cycles anybody?
    And are we only decimating the prey - or is it not rather so that we have disproportionally targeted predator populations among which the Sharks?
    The truth is that there is not one single documented case of more Shark attacks occurring because of overfishing!

    In fact, when it comes to some GWS populations, we may be experiencing the exact opposite!
    Having protected the Pinnipeds, we are now seeing more GWS in California, the East Coast of the USA and also Western Australia! And there are authoritative voices claiming that the Tiger Shark population of Hawaii may be increasing owing to the protection of Sea Turtles!

  • And not every commercial fishery is declining!
    Yes most if not all are severely depleted - but owing to good management, several are rebounding, especially in the US!
  • Halal demands for live animals?

    Hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep producing dozens of bodies and thousands of tons of animal feces and urine are the cause of n=3 Shark strikes in 2011, n=2 in 2013 and n=1 in 2014? By GWS and not the ubiquitous scavenging Tigers?

    The fact is that there are more water users going to ever more remote locations and extending their season due to better gear. And at the same time, after decades of protection, there are more large GWS and there is more of their coastal Pinninped prey. You draw the inevitable conclusions.
    And anyway, considering the infinitesimally small risk of those Shark strikes, the main factor here is plain and simple chance and bad luck - nothing more nothing less!
  • Shark drumlines, meant to discourage sharks from approaching beaches, actually create another attraction. Sharks and other creatures become snared and entrapped and they die; this in turn attracts more sharks, bringing them within close proximity to the beaches.

    I see. Snared and entrapped. In a drumline.
    And anyway - are there more or less Shark strikes on beaches with drumlines?
  • Climate change, ocean acidification and pollution are other factors affecting the migration patterns of sharks.

    Oh yes oh yes - especially acidification!
    Evidence = a big fat zero, especially the implicit assertion that those factors would attract Sharks to the coasts where they would then strike people.
Long story short?
This is everything I despise about Fat Paul's breathy brand of fake conservation messaging.
As usual, it is nothing but a sequence of moronic and misleading pulled-from-the-arse factoids that is then picked up and parroted as the latest truth by his googly-eyed devotees - remember the Earth Doctor?
What pisses me off is that as a result, the movement is then perceived as being dominated by extremists and idiots, once again making it that much more difficult to achieve tangible results on the ground.
Remember this?
Kirsten E
Popularizing science is a very difficult thing to achieve. It is worth considering that misinformation becomes widespread because it appeals to the general public’s sense of Right and Wrong, where soundbites with some tenuous connection to a factual foundation fit firmly into a black and white worldview. It is not surprising that sympathetic individuals fall prey to exaggerated claims, because they lack the background, ability, or dedication to look deeper.
I am guilty of being a bit of a loudmouth when discussing shark conservation, but as it is my intended career path I am always looking to further my knowledge. The difficulty is that most people’s introduction to these issues is not from researchers, but from organizations like Sea Shepherd or documentaries like Sharkwater, who seek a reactionary, emotional impact to make a point. Once that impression is made, it is very hard to scale it back to a more realistic discussion, perhaps because it lacks the same shock factor that appeals to people’s indignation in the first place.
It’s ironic that conservationists can be their own worst enemy.
And the Huffington Post?
More and more, it looks like there is really zero editorial integrity but that instead, they will post just about anything by anybody, with not an iota of even the most cursory fact checking.

Not impressed!

PS - David is on it as always! :)
PS2 - it now says, This post has been edited to change factual errors contained in the first version.
Right. E.g where it now basically states that having removed 90% of the big predatory Fishes (= including Sharks!), the remaining 10% of Sharks are hungrier and are thus striking people.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shelley Clarke - more Inconvenient Truth!

So, you didn't like that last post much huh.

I understand.
Much easier to declare victory, preferably on social media and with a selfie, and then ride off into the sunset huh.
But real conservation demands a long term commitment and perseverance, and things are complicated, meaning that the job is really never done. The "other side" are certainly not stupid and will ruthlessly lie and cheat, and exploit any weaknesses and loopholes - so as a minimum we must remain vigilant and continue learning and refining what we do and what we advocate.

Here's some more myth-busting for you, courtesy of Shelley.
Again, please download and keep it, the more as it is once again compelling and really easy to understand.

Again, I'm not gonna dwell.
Readers of this blog are well aware that those campaigns to stop finning are now a thing of the distant past and only waste precious and scarce resources that would be better invested elsewhere. And latest since the epic 97 million paper, we know that the traders are nimble and always manage to source their product from new places and species. And finally, we also get an estimate of that incidental mortality I mentioned the other day - rather shocking isn't it, meaning that the call for better legislation, better trade data, better reporting of incidental mortality, and sustainability through fisheries management is all-the more urgent!

Two topics did however particularly pique my interest.
  • First, this.
    Less encouraging is the finding by the new Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) analysis (Clarke and Dent in press) that Thailand has surpassed Hong Kong as the world’s largest exporter, and its main trading partners — Japan and Malaysia — may be among the world’s top four importers, particularly of small, low- value fins. Not only do these markets show no sign of slowing down, they are all among the world’s top shark fishing nations and, thus, the full scope of their shark fin markets may be even larger than trade-based estimates suggest (Clarke and Dent in press). When we add to this the facts that most consumer-orientated conservation campaigns target shark fins rather than meat, and that shark meat consumption is both growing and often unrecognized as “shark”, it is clear that the campaigns have more work to do.
    Indeed - like I said the job is really never done!
  • And then, what about those remarks about the Marshalls and Palau.
    Yes it sucks but those are developing, comparatively poor countries and full compliance will take time to achieve. But they are certainly trying their darned best, see here and here, and I also want to add that contrary to the usual underhanded sniping, Pew are very much assisting them in achieving better outcomes!
    But NGOs only have so much money and can only help in building capacity - the monitoring, patrolling, apprehending and prosecuting remain the job of those countries and not of the NGOs. And there are plenty of other funding sources all the way to the World Bank and the ADB that could be tapped given the necessary urgency, the more as the poaching and overfishing of the high seas by those distant water fleets is clearly threatening the long-term economic but also cultural viability of those islanders!
So there you have it.
Yes it's once again not only good news - but it is vital information that will only make us better going forward!
And do consider these suggestions - and those by Shelley!

Johann - counting Sharks in Moorea, and a new Paper!

Nice article!

This is quite obviously something we need to explore.
We do keep a census of our Blacktips and Whitetips at the 4m feeding station but it may be interesting to compare that with an aerial survey (see some of those Sharks in the drone footage here!) and also test our hypothesis that when the tide is very low, the Blacktips retire to the back of the reef.
So much to do so little time! :)

And there's this new paper!
I found the abstract an absolute abomination of technical hieroglyphic gibberish, and said so - but it really does appear that some aspects of science remain reserved for the initiated only, as even Johann's "popularization" remains rather obscure, at least to me.
I guess the whole exercise was aimed at finding out how fast those neonate Sharks evolve from drawing energy from reserves that have been provided by their parents (in this case = from the yolk sac and later, via the placenta) and are being stored in the liver and fatty tissue, to feeding independently. And later, the same analysis could shed light on shifts in diet as they progress from neonates to juveniles to subadults to adults.
And I gather that the paper comes to the conclusion that a) those shifts happen and that b) there are, unsurprisingly, differences among species, locations and even individuals.

Or maybe I didn't understand anything at all!
Johann? :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Enforcement of Shark Sanctuaries - Case in Point!


The noose is definitely slowly tightening on those poachers.

Read this.
If true, this would be an absolutely egregious case of poaching and obstruction - the good news being that they were caught and that if convicted, this will act as a strong deterrent. And, the Marshall Islands would be pocketing a nice chunk of cash that would go a long way towards further improving their monitoring and enforcement.
And failing that, there's always the Indonesian approach, see at top - maybe a tad harsh but it sure send out a message! :)

Well done!

Huffington Post - Retraction!

Bravo David - again!

Looks like that stupidity has been retracted.
Editor's note here!

Sed scripta manent.
Stupid article by the Earth Doctor here, idiotic video here.
And how about this shit that claims the exact same nonsense - or this drivel that once again operates with totally unsupported assertions.
And the list goes on and on!

Retract that too?
Or let bygones be bygones and instead, permanently retract the embarrassing scribe?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shark Fin and Sea Cucumber Trade - epic Paper!

Totally unsustainable marine products - proudly brought to you by the Heep Tung Hong Group!

Wow - busted again!
And by the same person!

But first.
Download the PdF in this temporary link before it goes back down - chop chop!
And then read it - and keep the PdF handy!

So there we have it.
After years of outright speculation, conflicting reports and breathy propaganda by both the Shark fin industry and conservation circles, Shelley Clarke has once again reached past all the bullshit, rummaged though the piles of data hoarded in Hong Kong and is finally presenting us with real, scientific and unbiased evidence.
In her own words, the situation boils down to this.
  • Shark fin capture production has peaked, sea cucumber production is increasing.
  • Sourcing networks for both products are dynamic and resilient to changing conditions.
  • Conservation attention and regulatory environment differ between taxa.
  • Conservation and anti-corruption campaigns may have dampened shark fin trade.
  • Better tracking of traded quantities is necessary for management and conservation.
This is really as good as it gets.
On top of the above, it contains a wealth of other details and really is a must-read and must-keep - so if you haven't already, do download and do read it, the more as this time, I'm certainly not gonna paraphrase anything!

Anyway, I say bravo and thank you!
I really got the feeling that for the very first time, we are finally being shown the entire, highly nuanced picture, and this without any self serving agendas. And no I'm not gonna dwell on the bullshitters - you all know all-to-well who has asserted what and can certainly draw your own conclusions!

My personal take-away?
  • Yes there have been reductions both in the trade and the consumption of Shark fins in Hong Kong and possibly also China, and this owing to a variety of factors among which the recent conservation successes but quite possibly also the fact that Shark populations continue to get depleted at unsustainable rates.
    In fact, anecdotal evidence from here in Fiji but also many other locations indicates that the price of Shark fins has fallen below a tipping point whereby it does not anymore make much commercial sense to target Sharks and then ship the fins to Asia - so bravo to the various anti-consumption advocates in Asia for a job well done!
  • But looking at the evidence, it appears equally clear that Shark fishing in general and the Shark fin trade in particular ain't gonna go away anytime soon - meaning that on top of the traditional conservation work, we must also advocate full sustainability = better fisheries management in terms of quotas, monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.
  • There, I strongly advocate to reverse the burden of proof for both the fishermen and the traders as it greatly helps enforcement - and I equally continue to advocate that exactly like we do for other Fishes from sustainably managed Salmon to pole-and-line-caught Skipjack to MSC-certified Lobsters from Mexico and Australia, we need to help develop a market for sustainably managed Shark (fins and meat and possibly even other products) as if it is successful, this will drive the industry towards sustainability.
    It's stuff I've advocated before, and you can re-read it e.g. here, with links.
But now to something I've so far totally neglected - my bad!
In order to achieve any meaningful results both in traditional conservation but also in fisheries management, we absolutely require better data!

Methinks those data already exist, namely with the fishermen but above all, with the comparatively few traders. 
The problem of course is that those folks continue to lie and obfuscate whenever they get a chance, meaning that most official statistics are way off due to underreporting and that only very rarely, people like Shelley get access to robust data sets and are able to report more accurately about what is really going on.
With that in mind, fisheries legislation especially at the level of licensing should include strong wording mandating detailed and meticulous reporting to the management authorities and stiff penalties for non-adherence. This must also include mandatory reporting of bycatch, including whether the animals were released alive or discarded dead.

And what about those sanctuaries? 
Yes despite of the continued sniping by some quarters, I remain convinced that they work in that they greatly reduce Shark mortality as targeted fishing and the trade are forbidden and poachers are increasingly being apprehended - but let's be clear that even with those measures in place, there's still a ton of Sharks being killed!
For one, some sanctuaries contain exemptions for subsistence fishing that is by no means irrelevant, the more as I cannot discern any bag limits that would at least somewhat contain the damage.
And then there's the mortality of all that bycatch, and of that exempted catch-and-release game fishing. Many, many Sharks die on those lines, purse seines and coastal gillnets; and even assuming  that the fishermen want to release them alive (and the majority of commercial fishermen do not as handling feisty Sharks on deck is dangerous), many die before they reach the vessel and whilst they are being handled, and many more die post release.
And as far as I know, the current sanctuary legislation contains no wording about the need to collect data on that mortality. This must change in line with the preceding paragraph about fisheries legislation, as this incidental mortality is certainly significant and needs to be known in order to ascertain the ultimate success of the sanctuary legislation but also, in order to enact better mitigation measures.

So there you have it.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is excellent and required reading.
And as an aside, it's also really interesting to find a comparison between the Shark fin trade and that for Sea Cucumbers. Like I said, here in Fiji and in the SoPac in general, the Sea Cucumber traders have diversified into Shark fins and are very much the driver of the current unsustainable slaughter of our coastal Sharks.

Well done!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Four Shocking Coral Reef Facts About Ocean Resorts!

Wakaya Island reef - Fiji's second National Marine Park! Source.


Looks like I've been totally blindsided!
Not only did Patric successfully deflect my attention when I nearly managed to unmask him a couple of years ago - but now it turns out that he has managed to blog and Facebook his little blue heart out completely undetected!

As usual, the output has been rather staggering.
And some of it is just simply great, highly recommended reading!

This post has piqued my interest.
Yes indeed those statistics are rather shocking - but of course, like Patric, I don't see this as a problem but rather, as a real opportunity! So how about if on top of installing one of Patric's créations, those resorts could safeguard their economic interests by protecting their newly created marine cash cow.

Look no further than the Fijian model!
After the National Marine Park designation of the SRMR, luxury island resort Wakaya is the second (not first!) such marine park in the Country for which we extend our heartfelt congratulations.
This is once again a public/private partnership that follows the exact template I was mentioning here whereby Government deputizes the private for profit entity to act as trustees of their principal business asset.

Patric - hint hint!
I'm sure you understand! :)

Shark Diver - Job Opportunity!

This is truly a chance of a lifetime.
No need to paraphrase what Martin has written there - just this: this is definitely not the right job for macho ego-warriors!
Shark Diver runs a totally sustainable, extremely low impact Shark viewing operation that employs exclusively surface cages with hookah and is very serious about not engaging in any shenanigans, least of all those stupid out-of-cage excursions.

But if you want to learn about real ecotourism, that's the place to be.
Martin's knowledge of that local GWS population is unmatched, and you will have the opportunity to rub shoulders with stellar researchers, many local and international conservationists and camera pros alike.

You should be!

Wishing you the best of success!

Playa - excellent Progress!

Great stuff!

Check out this table.
It really looks like the collaboration among the Bull Shark dive operators in Playa del Carmen is starting to bear fruit. Those initial 30,000 pesos are a nice contribution towards setting the required buoys delimiting the Shark diving area, and tagging more of the Sharks. This year's tagging tally is over 12, meaning that Saving our Sharks is making giant strides towards finally unraveling the mystery of why the Sharks come to Playa (likely to pup - but where?) and where they go once they depart again which is one of their declared goals.

Incidentally, that money comes from two sources.
Donativo are the funds collected via an array of "tip boxes" where the customers can make voluntary contributions; Aportación are per-diver/per-dive contributions by the dive operators that contrary to what we do here, are being paid out of cash flow and thus impact the bottom line - but of course they are good business in the long term.
So here's to Phocea, Pepe Dive Center and of course Chino's Phantom Divers for truly walking the talk by making a real, hands-on contribution to Shark research and Shark conservation!
Please show them your appreciation by choosing them when booking your next vacation there!

I must say that I'm impressed.
After the adoption of the code of conduct, this collaboration is yet another milestone in establishing Playa as one of the best and most sustainable global Shark diving hotspots.

Well done everybody!

Basking Shark Scotland joins GSD!


GSD continues to expand in leaps and bounds.
But first, watch this

Very nice!
So, a big welcome aboard to Basking Shark Scotland.
This is a genuine, through-and-through believable  ecotourism operator that ticks all the right boxes. Our customers and friends report that Shane and his staff are doing a wonderful job, and his company constitutes a great addition to GSD's portfolio of responsible, long-term sustainable, research-based and conservation-oriented Shark diving operators.
And, they got a blog - that in itself is an indication for superior quality! :)

And lest you wonder whether this may be it?
Certainly not: more top-class operators are currently being evaluated and will be unveiled shortly!

So keep watching this space!

Patric - peaceful Coral Conservation?

Beware - the whirling dervish of marine conservation is back!

So, what is this stuff?
Prima vista, somebody wants to turn the global shorelines into some sort of Atlantis-like theme parks by plastering them with some kitschy fusion of  Mayan, South East Asian and ancient civilizations - and quite frankly, my initial reaction as a rather traditionalist marine conservation advocate has been a mixture of derision, disbelief and outrage.
But upon closer inspection, things may be a tad more nuanced than that.

Turns out that this is Patric Douglas 2.0.
Yes that would be HE, the devil incarnate of the global Shark diving industry where the infamous creature spent a decade running circles around his competition whilst gleefully trash talking and blog dogging his little black heart out - and where in the process, he managed to drag the entire kicking and screaming industry straight into the 21st century!

And Patric is nothing if not unconventional.
some of his proposals are really way out there where I have problems following, at least at first glance - but time after time, as results are being achieved and emotions are being superseded by pragmatism and dispassionate analysis, I discover that I end up by ultimately agreeing with his ideas. 
So for the time being, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
The proof is obviously in the pudding, and only time will tell whether his idea is the latest visionary brainchild of a consummate lateral thinker, or whether it is nothing more than some outlandish money making scheme. 
For me, this project will be credible if it will indeed establish viable habitat and contribute to Coral restoration - and if not, not. I don't doubt that it will be successful - but if the marine conservation does not lead to tangible results, then it will be nothing more than a clever business idea that may rake in serious money for Reef Word and tourism operators alike. Nothing wrong with that - but in terms of marine conservation, it will be nothing more than the usual greenwashing, albeit on a monumental scale, and yes, pun intended. We shall see!
Be it as it may, I invite you to explore the exhaustive website as below the usual Patric-esque all-pervading multiple layers of breathy marketing, you will discover a wealth of serious considerations that will maybe prompt you to give pause and maybe, just maybe reconsider your initial reservations.

But now to the juicy part! :)
The man is blogging again - and I for one don't believe for a second that no one on this blog is taken to task like he boldly, and I may add, rather naively asserts!

Yes Coral and Reef people don't wear bird cages on their head quite yet.
And I'm totally with My name is Shiva, so? when she observes that
Researchers have no skins, they are opaque netherworld creatures that flit from one thing to another, occasionally deigning to drop 'pearls of knowledge' upon those beneath them.

You know, like pigeons.

But unlike pigeons, if you grab one from the air they become offended and irate - but never violent.

Instead, they call in other researchers who flit through the breeze to defend the 'offended one' unleashing a barrage of 'pearls of knowledge' upon those that would dare question or corner. 
Yes, indeed, mostly.
But then again, my personal observation is that the arcane and seemingly peaceful word of Coral conservation is very much predicated on not upsetting the apple cart.
This is prime marine NGO territory, meaning that there's tons of money and plenty of nice, cozy and only moderately challenging little careers at stake here, and this is a tranquil oasis of peace and contentment where everybody appears to tacitly agree that debate and strife carry the risk of ruining the party for everybody. So they quietly plod along harmoniously and peacefully in their little universe that remains blissfully oblivious of such mundane technicalities like deliverables, ROIs, timelines let alone accountability whilst the donors are successfully being conned out of convinced to contribute ever more money to what are essentially open-ended endeavors with zero likelihood of ever being completed. 
Yes maybe a tad harsh and cynical considering the many bleeding hearts out there - but is it that far off the mark?

So what if somebody came along with a different solution.
A solution that would predicate that conservation could be run like a for-money venture, with zero donations but instead, with the full complement of capitalistic project management where what counts is productivity and where procrastination and bullshit walk. A solution that would risk upsetting the applecart.
Think the oh-so-peaceful community of career conservationists and coralniks would simply meekly acknowledge the impending existential challenge?

Having been there myself, I think I know the answer.
Both the Fiji Shark Project (a self-funded capitalistic venture) and MFF (a self-funded capitalistic venture) that are now being hailed as ground-breaking were initially met with disdain to outright hostility by the established conservation mafia - and I'm also detecting quite a bit of the usual underhanded whispers and snotty snobbishness in acknowledging the true potential of the essentially self funding and capitalistic public/private partnership that has been pioneered in Fiji's first National Marine Park
And being very much party to an ongoing project that is collecting evidence to determine whether a recently declared MPA is legit or instead a scam where an NGO has squandered scarce conservation funds and lied to donors and the public; and having witnessed the reaction of said NGO upon getting wind of the impending investigation, I'm highly skeptical that matters will continue to be pervaded by the same karmic tranquility as Patric appears to anticipate.

Plus, Patric is Patric.
Like me, he hates bullshit and being confronted with said excretions, his visceral inclination is very much not to merely hold his nose and look the other way.

We shall see.
There will be temptation - and I for one look forward to plenty of corally fireworks!
Anybody taking bets?

Anyway, welcome back Sir.
It has been way too long - and yes, please do reserve some space for the occasional dabbling in more Sharky matters!

Bullsharks, Freshwater and Zinc - Paper!

Click for detail!

I'm sure you remember this post - or not? :)
There we speculated that an analysis of Bull Shark teeth could not only indicate whether they have entered freshwater habitats but could even indicate the specific river nursery they have visited.

Alas, it appears, we were wrong.
The results clearly confirm that those Sharks whose teeth were sampled between January and March did not sojourn in freshwater, at least not for an extended period of time.

  • We did collect the teeth on the reef without being able to allocate them to any individual Shark, and therefore don't know whether any of the Sharks was a returning female that had given birth in the river nurseries. Maybe those 42 teeth we collected were all from Sharks that had not migrated to the rivers at all - improbable but by no means impossible!

  • If memory serves me right, Bull Sharks have six or seven rows of teeth, with the first, outer "active" row being erect whereas the last row is not fully developed and largely covered by gum tissue.
    Even assuming that tooth turnover is rapid, one would have to assume that it takes quite a while, likely weeks (?), for a tooth to migrate to the first row and then fall out. Unfortunately the paper does not expound how long it takes for a tooth to fully form whilst adding trace elements  - but in view of the above, I have to assume that the entire tooth formation is a rather lengthy process.
    If so, it would mean that for a tooth to show a composition that is highly indicative of freshwater exposure, the Shark would have to reside in a freshwater habitat for an extended period of time.

  • Our observations of pregnant females generally show that depending on ENSO, they disappear for approx. 4-5 weeks sometimes in late October to late November before coming back to the SRMR.
    As the Bulls are not resident within the SRMR, those 4-5 weeks are however not at all representative for the time the females spend in the river. Instead, they are likely to comprise a) a period spent in other marine habitats before departing to the river, b) the time spent traveling to the river nursery, c) the time spent in the river which is the only time where the teeth would pick up a freshwater signature, d) the time traveling back from the river and finally, e) the time spent elsewhere in the ocean before visiting us, and being recorded in the SRMR.
    It is thus only fair to assume that the time spent in the river proper is rather short, maybe even just enough to swim in, give birth and swim back out.

  • Furthermore, the Fijian Bull Sharks are not known to establish proper riverine/freshwater populations like e.g. those in the Brisbane River, the Breede or Lake Nicaragua but are instead quasi exclusively marine

  • With all of that in mind, chances to find robust freshwater signatures in the teeth of the Fijian Bull Sharks were very slim to start with!

  • But OF COURSE they DO go and give birth in the rivers! Big female Bulls are being seen and even caught there, and that's where we do find the juveniles!
Long story short?
Nice hypothesis, great evidence collection, really interesting and cutting-edge analysis - but alas, a rather total bust!

And so it goes - can't win them all!