Saturday, March 13, 2021

More Poaching on Shark Reef!

Damn those people.
I knew that little friendly red Grouper.
And those are some of our last Parrotfish, and seeing that dead Angelfish breaks my heart.

But at least Tashi Blue was able to save that little Turtle.
I know, it's not much, just a little Hawksbill - but it is something, and for that little Turtle it is everything. We've known her for many years and can only hope that she will make it.
And Fred the clam is happy, too! :)
The poachers are known and will be prosecuted.
And before you ask and/or start lecturing us in Fijian protocol and the like: no, they're by no means destitute and desperate. 
They all have jobs, and have done this for fun
And the other inevitable excuses are just that.
Shark Reef has been a tabu since 2004, and since the gazetting in 2014, the fishing ban is like any other law and needs to be respected - and no there's no need for special signage or the like: it's up to the fishermen to know what is legal and what not. And we are duty-bound, by law, to enforce the ban - and enforce it we will.
All our local communities know that and don't poach there, the more since for many years, the reef has provided them with spillover fish for their qoliqoli, hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct assistance, and jobs for their youth. 
But those folks are not from here and didn't even bother to follow protocol and ask for permission before fishing in somebody else's reefs - and lemme tell 'ya, over in Beqa that's a transgression punishable by bush knife, not just a bit of shouting!
So people, chill - and as a minimum, know the facts!

And Turtles are protected country-wide.
And everybody in Fiji knows that.
It's so bloody disheartening.
Hopefully, now that the first batch of vaccines is in country, tourism and the economy will slowly pick up and the poaching will subside - but from what we can see, the damage is enormous and will take years to mend.
For now, all we can do is to keep on fighting.

Oh well.
Onward and upward - nobody said it was gonna be easy.
To be continued.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Fuvahmulah - Barbarians at the Gate!

Plenty of Tigers guaranteed!

Check this out.

Great huh.
I've been there a couple of years ago and can assure you that it is really like that, and even better, to the point that I've been trying to go back there ever since.
Many ages ago I landed myself a nifty little job as leader of exploratory dive expeditions and check-out diver for new dive destinations that led me to explore some of the remotest, most memorable and sometimes scariest dive sites long before the advent of organized mass tourism - and Fuvahmulah still conveys that rare feeling of exploring new frontiers where every dive is still an adventure harboring the possibility of unique and unexpected encounters - see e.g the other videos on this page.
And at a time where diving has been largely commodified that's just simply awesome.
Even Fuvahmulah itself is totally unique.
Dubbed The Galapagos of the Maldives, it sits all by itself, completely exposed to wind and offshore currents in deep oceanic water and thus acts as a beacon and pit stop for large ocean wanderers. It is also not your archetypical Maldivian tourism island that only sports a single sprawling hotel installation on a atoll motu, but is instead fully inhabited and merely features a few charming small family-owned guest houses along with a few modest eateries - but that too only adds to its charm.

The people to go with are these folks, hands down.
I had heard about the place from clients who mentioned a crazy Russian and her partner - but Tatiana and Panda are everything but. And this is me saying it so you better believe it!
Instead, these are smart, extremely knowledgeable, responsible and highly experienced people running a highly professional dive operation together with a great team of super motivated locals, and diving with them is both great fun but also super safe.

And lemme tell 'ya: the latter could not be more important.
The simply fabulous Thresher Shark dives are (drift) diving for grown ups in oceanic conditions and often substantial depth and challenging surge and currents, followed by open water decompression and live pickup - so you better have guides who know exactly what they are doing. And they most certainly do!
And when it comes to the world famous baited Tiger Zoo dives that often feature dozens of large Tigers, following the correct protocols is everything - and these guys sure have it down pat. And yes this would again be me saying it, the more as they've shown me the protocols that are spot on and exhaustive, including the all-important evacuation procedures and first aid training!

Which brings me straight to the title of this post.
It's much like what happened in Playa where Chino did all the pioneering work, only to have a hoard of moochers fly in and piss on his parade, or Bimini where everybody rushed in and as a minimum spoiled years of research by the Sharklab. 
Now that Tatiana and Panda have done all the heavy lifting and pretty much single-handedly put it on the tourism map, Fuvahmulah is being overrun by dozens of local copycats and wannabee Shark whisperers with little more to their credit than a GoPro, an Instagram account, an opinion and a mouth.
And like last year in Playa, this can only end up in tears - especially at the Tiger Zoo which in the high season is already operating at the very limit of sustainability. When I see those arrogant idiots and their clients wanting to change those excellent procedures and even institute free diving, in baited conditions and at the entrance of the island's only harbor with scores of vessels zipping around overhead I can only shake my head in disbelief - but then again, this is so pathetically same old same old isn't it.
Rule number one: never, ever let the inmates run the asylum!

So folks, don't be fooled by the images and the hype.
Especially in Shark diving, there really is no substitute for experience, professionalism and quality - and being a local, and giving stupid discounts, and showing you nice pictures and video, and spinning some nice eco-BS are all no substitutes for that. Not in Fuvahmulah, not in Playa and also not here in Fiji where we too continue to hate on each other but at least have our own dive sites.

Incidentally, Playa has improved dramatically.
The pandemic has weeded out the worst assholes, and most others have finally discovered the virtues of cooperation, leading to a solid season with acceptable Bull Shark numbers (thanks Chino for the baiting!) and somewhat reasonable revenues for everybody.  
And yes, Bimini has become much more orderly too.

When it comes to Fuvahmulah, it'll take a while.
Assuming the safari boats come rushing in as usual, the high season will likely be a bloody clusterfuck, after which business volumes will dry up and many of those folks will thankfully go bust and hopefully wander off in search of greener pastures.
But it aint gonna be pretty.

So, again, be smart and go with the best - seriously!
And should you be on a safari boat, do insist that they do, too, instead of trying to do it on the cheap with some local pal, the more as the victim of that fiasco would be you!

Just sayin'!
Enjoy - because you most certainly will!

PS - Oh FFS.
I've barely posted this, and here they come - and it's even worse than I feared.
The inmates have already taken over and are free diving at the Tiger Zoo, and developing some inane pelagic Tiger Shark dive, obviously baited like their illegal dive in Hawaii. And they are obviously empowering women and helping the poor locals and fighting marine pollution - something that has already been done by others for years, and this without it being used for self-aggrandizement! 
And of course it's all about Shark conservation - in a Shark sanctuary
And talking about eco clap trap
for generations we have recycled the fish scraps into the sea to fertilize the fisheries 
Literally all fishermen who clean their catch throw the scraps into the ocean, and this everywhere!
Recycle and fertilize my ass!
Lord have mercy...
And we're back to square one. 
Like a wise man said years ago - incidentally about the very same folks
It stopped actually being "about sharks" a long time ago. 
It's about the individual and what the sharks as a vehicle to notoriety can do for them
And I can most certainly leave it at that.
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