Monday, November 19, 2012

Save the Mangroves of Bimini

Mangrove forests are one of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems on the planet. In Bimini, above and below the surface they provide food and shelter for birds, snakes, fish, sharks, lobster and conch. They provide a vital nursery area for juvenile animals and habitat for numerous other threatened species. Mangroves also stand solid against the wrath of Mother Nature, holding strong when hurricanes ravage and destroy areas. The mangroves in Bimini are facing an enemy that they cannot stand strong against: human greed.

There are those people fighting to protect this precious natural wonder though and they are pushing for the establishment of a marine protected area. Although it was discussed as early as 2009, there has been no movement is establishing parameters or enforcing the area.

Below are three videos from a town meeting held in 2009. The MPA is discussed and shown to exist, but in 2012 there is still nothing solid in place. For more information or to find out how you can help, please check out the Bimini MPA Page.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Conservation is for Everyone

Every time I scroll through my social media pages, I am bombarded with problems that face our amazing planet and the petitions that are trying to help. My heart lies with protecting sharks and our oceans, but I am sympathetic to all the other issues. It is overwhelming though, when looking at how many problems there really are. It is difficult to be hopeful and not just throw in the towel. I honestly believe that people are good and that we can, and are making a difference. I see this when a 9 year old tells me how much they love sharks or an 11 year old shares with me the letter he wrote to a cruise ship company asking them to stop serving shark. There is hope and it is in each and every one of us.

I spoke to nine classes of 4th graders on this past Wednesday and aside from shark education we had a discussion about what they could do to help sharks. A lot of the things they are already doing help sharks and they were excited to find this out. I encouraged them to speak up and share their ideas, ask questions and know that they have a voice, even thought they are young. The world seems massive as an adult and for a child it is really incomprehensible. I want kids to know that they matter and they are more powerful than they realize. Whether it is the bottle they bring to school for water instead of buying a plastic one or the influence they have on their parents purchasing, it all matters.

Kids are raw and real without the Cynicism that inflicts all of us as we age. They are yet to be burdened with the ever-present stress that can kill off our sense of hope and creativity. They have unbridled passion, empathy and compassion that really can and will change the world. This energy gives me hope and drives my continued push to save sharks and our oceans.

Adults can learn a lot from kids and should look to them for a bit of inspiration. Kids keep it simple and go all in. As adults we tend to over complicate and hesitate, often stifling our own ability to create and do. Many adults ask me what they can do for sharks if they are not a diver, biologist or expert. The list is too long to mention, but I always emphasize keeping it simple and to realize that small steps are powerful tools. You do not need to be an expert; you just need an idea and some heart.
I had a woman write to me and ask if making shark cupcakes and selling at a craft sale was silly. She wanted to take the money she made and donate it. Definitely not silly, pretty cool idea if you ask me. I had another man who loves diving and wanted to share this passion on hobby night at his daughter’s school. He had some pictures and video, but reached out to myself and other shark conservationists for materials and ideas. Catalyzed by his own love, he was able to create a table of shark info and reach a lot of people that had no idea about sharks or diving. This took a little bit of time and effort, something everyone can do.

I wish that I could visit classrooms every week, but my schedule just does not allow it, plus I need to pay my bills. Because of this I encourage others to make a visit to a local school. The kids will love it! They will not care that you are not an expert; they will notice the person that took time to talk to them and share something they are passionate about. If not a school then a church group, book group, cooking group or scout group. The options are endless. Everyone has it in them to be a conservation minded individual and everyone should.

If you are interested in doing a shark presentation please email me for materials, guidelines and information.

Best Fishes,

Sharky Jillian

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Great Works School: Great for Sharks

I love visiting schools in random places to talk to kids about sharks, but it is always special walking the halls of schools I attended as a child. The Great Works School in South Berwick, Maine was the junior high when I attended, so things have changed a little bit.

On this visit I spoke to nine classes of 4th graders, broken into 5 groups. I have an outline with images, but I love how each presentation varies based on questions the students have and what they are interested in. I want to give them facts, but I also want to listen to what they have to say. Children, although small, have amazing questions and a lot to say when we actually listen. I challenged each group to name more sharks than the last and each one rose to the occasion. They get so excited. I think cookie cutter and goblin shark are always my favorites. Nice to see they know more than the standard answers.

We talked about shark parts, shark myths and why our oceans need sharks. Many of the students had their own stories about sharks and a few had been lucky enough to see one or two. I am sure they will get some strange looks from parents when they go and say to their parents, “ the shark girl that talked to us today said I should swim with sharks.” It is true. No matter how old or young, swimming with sharks is something everyone should do! No, a 9 year old probably won’t go to South Africa to cage dive, but they could go for a snorkel and check out some nurse sharks. This is the great thing about sharks and swimming with them, there are so many options and opportunities.

At this age, any fear and misconceived notions they have from sharks have come either from their parents or television. It is still possible though, to break through that loosely established knowledge base and shape is with fact and empathy. This ability to generate a new perception is why working with children is vital for our oceans.

The highlight was how many great ideas the students had when I asked them what they could do to help sharks. A lot of the ideas, like picking up trash on the beach, are things they already do, but they had not ever thought about how it might help sharks. It is important for them to see how things connect and that helping the planet is definitely something they can do. It makes them feel important and have pride in the fact that they do make a difference.

Thank you to Pamela Starkey for making this happen and to the Great Works School for caring about sharks.