Monday, October 19, 2015

Sharks4Kids Dutch Caribbean Shark Education Tour: Sint Eustatius

Our Dutch Caribbean Sharks4Kids Shark Education Tour kicked off on the beautiful island of Sint Eustatius (Statia). Statia is rich in history and packs a lot of punch for a little island! We hit the ground running, presenting at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute Science Café. This is a monthly event, but they added a bonus presentation to coordinate with our visit. Duncan and I talked about the role of media and science in shark conservation. We had a much larger crowd than expected and thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that followed our presentation. It was clear from the minute we arrived; Statia has some shark lovers! Our hosts for this portion of our shark tour were Marine Park Manager Jessica Berkel and STENAPA (Sint Eustatius National Parks) education director Clair Blair. Both women went above and beyond to make the most of our short trip. 

Our next day started early, as we had a busy schedule of school visits organized by Clair, who escorted us to each and every place. Although she heard our talks a dozen times, not once did she seem uninterested. We really cannot thank her enough for her support! It is easy to see she absolutely loves working with the children and her enthusiasm is contagious, easily seen in the energy and excitement emanating students she works with.

The first morning we visited both Golden Rock Roman Catholic School and Bethel Methodist School speaking to students in grades 1-6. We were impressed with their knowledge of sharks and excitement to ask us questions. We discussed what makes a shark a shark, why they are important, how we learn about sharks, shark sanctuaries and how the students can continue to do even more to save these amazing animals. 

Naming Shark Species at the Golden Rock School

We are originally scheduled to visit the island during their “Shark Week,” in August, but hurricane Erika changed our plans. During the week the students participated in LOTS of sharky activities and events. A coloring contest was hosted and we were lucky enough to be there with Claire as she awarded the prizes. There were some really great coloring sheets and artwork created by the kids and we were excited to see Shark Stanley make an appearance! 

In the afternoon we visited the incredible Mega D Youth Foundation, an afterschool program developed by reggae star Mega D. This is an incredible program, which incorporates older students mentoring the younger kids. The students were eager to ask questions and we really enjoyed seeing all the opportunities this program is offering the kids of the island. 

Our luggage, containing our stuffed shark and Duncan’s shark suit arrived the next day, so the first schools missed out on Mr. Shark, but day 2 he was a crowd favorite. It makes my heart happy to see kids so excited about hi-fiving and saying hi to the shark! Not an action figure or celebrity, but he was definitely a super hero for the day. We had a busy morning visiting the 2 other primary schools on the island, Lynch Plantation Seventh Day Adventist School and Governor de Graaf School. The SDA school provided us with the most beautiful classroom we’ve ever been in; open air and a breathtaking view. Once again we were amazed by the excitement and the great questions! These students are doing their part to save sharks. 

Our final presentations were at the Governor de Graaf School and they really ended our trip on a high note. We definitely have some future marine biologists in the group and some shark divers! We loved the questions, the artwork, the hugs and the positive shark vibes. This was a great way to finish our brief, but amazing visit. 

As a person who lives on a rock (island), the culture and community on other rocks I visit always fascinate me and Statia definitely intrigued me. I cannot wait to return to this beautiful Caribbean gem.  Claire gave us a bit of a hi-speed tour while we ate sandwiches before heading to the airport to catch our flight back to Sint Maarten. 

Duncan and I at Fort Oranje
Duncan and I at Fort de Windt with St. Kitts in the distance

Special thanks to Claire and Jessica for all their work in coordinating the visit and to the wonderful students, teachers and people of Sint Eustatius! We will be back! Shark Week 2016!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Saving Sharks the Other 51 Weeks a Year

Sharks Deserve More Than a Week's Worth of Attention Each Year

Happy 2015.... well April 2015. My personal blog has been severely neglected, as I have been spending a lot of time swimming with sharks and working on education projects for Sharks4Kids. If you have not checked out our shark education non-profit PLEASE DO! You can also find us on social media facebook/sharks4kids  twitter: @sharks4kids and instagram: @sharkeducation.

I just got back from the Florida Keys and after spotting a few shark trinkets in a souvenirs shop, I started looking over some articles I had written about things people can do to help sharks. This article was featured in the August issue of Coastal Angler, but I wanted to share it here as well. We can all do something; think globally, act locally!

Each year millions of viewers around the world tune into Discovery Channel for an entire week of programming dedicated to sharks. Companies come up with shark themed advertisements like comparing a razor to a great hammerhead or daring customers to be “bold,” by diving with sharks or eating a new flavor of chip. It is great to see so much attention focused on these amazing animals, but in reality these conversations should be happening year round. Whether you love them or hate them, sharks play a critical role in the health of our oceans. Case in point, we need sharks.

Things to Think About Year Round:

Most sharks are top predators in the food chain and keep the ocean ecosystems balanced. They feed on injured and sick animals, helping to maintain a sustainable level in populations of animals below them in the food chain. I personally have been diving in parts of Indonesia where the sharks have been fished out and there are very few fish left and the coral reefs are dying.

Sharks are not man-eating monsters. On average five people die from shark attacks
each year, while humans kill approximately 100 million sharks each year. They are targeted primarily for their fins, used to make shark fin soup, but also for their meat and as bycatch (non-targeted species). Products are also made from their cartilage and the oil from their livers called squalene. 

Shark finning is when the fins of a shark are cut off while the animal is still alive and the mutilated body is thrown back in the water to die. In 2014, New Zealand became the last non-Asian developed country to ban shark finning and it was banned in the United States in the year 2000. 

Most of us are familiar with mercury when it comes to eating seafood. Mercury is a metal that bioaccumulates in ocean ecosystems. Animals cannot get rid of it, so the further up the food chain you go the higher the concentration of mercury. A STUDY done by University of Miami’s RSMAS also found high concentrations of neurotoxins ( BMMA) in shark fins. These neurotoxins are linked to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease( ALS). Even smaller sharks like spiny dogfish, often used in fish and chips, have high mercury levels and can cause serious health risks if consumed.

Sharks can get cancer, so taking pills derived from shark parts will not prevent cancer. Even if sharks were immune to cancer, the pills would still not have an impact. I like shark biologist David Shiffman’s analogy, "Even if they didn't get cancer, eating shark products won't cure cancer any more than me eating Michael Jordan would make me better at basketball."

Sharks do not belong in jars or as souvenirs on our walls. If you have even been to a souvenir shop in South Florida than you have probably seen shark jaws or shark fetuses in jars for sale. The shark fetuses are creepy and completely unnecessary.

Shark diving is a multi-billion dollar industry globally and has shown a positive impact on shark protection. The best way to fight misconceptions about sharks is to see them in the wild and on their terms. In the Bahamas alone, there are multiple shark diving destinations including Bimini, Nassau, Freeport and Cat Island.

Ways to Make Every Week Shark Week

1.    Don’t be afraid to ask what it is you are eating and choose sustainable seafood. Oceans around the world are heavily overfished, so chose species of fish that are fast growing and breed often. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a Safe Seafood guide that can fit in your wallet. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what exactly the “catch of day” is? A STUDY released by Oceana in 2012 found, “31% of seafood mislabeled in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale-area during a survey conducted in 2011-2012. Fraud was detected in half of the 14 different types of fish collected, with snappers and white tuna being the most frequently mislabeled.”

2.    Do not buy shark products. This includes shark cartilage pills, shark souvenirs and products containing shark liver oil (squalene). This oil is found not only in pills, but also lotions and make-ups. 
3.    Go see sharks. If you are a scuba diver chances are you have encountered a shark, but if not you should definitely book a trip.If you are not a diver there are lots of great snorkeling options around the world and seeing sharks might be a reason to get your scuba certification!

4.   Learn the facts. ( Factual AND fun)

-There are over 500 species of sharks and they are found in every ocean around the world.
-Sharks are slow growing, mature late and give birth to very few offspring, making them extremely vulnerable to overfishing.
-Greenland sharks are believed to live up to 100 years.
-Lemon sharks can bite their own tails.
-Tiger Sharks can invert their stomachs.
-A frilled shark can be pregnant for up to 3.5 years.
-Goblin sharks have pink skin.
-Megalodon was a real shark, but is now EXTINCT.
-The term “Elasmobranch” is a collective name for sharks, skates and rays. Elasmobranchs have a skeleton made of cartilage, no swim bladders, five to seven pairs of gills and skin made up of small dermal denticles.
-  A STUDY done by IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reported 25 % of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. 

5. Support Organizations working to Save Sharks

 There are lots of great organizations working to better understand these animals through science and research, as well as organizations working to put better legislation in place for protection of sharks. Some of my favorites include

Sharks4Kids-Shark Education for students and teachers
Shark Defenders-Working towards the implementation of shark sanctuaries around the world
Bimini Biological Field Station- Shark Science and Research 
Save Our Seas: Supporting Shark Science & Research, Shark Conservation & Education
Guy Harvey Research Institute-Shark Science and Education
Shark Advocates- Shark protection legislation and advocacy
The Shark Trust -Shark Advocacy and Education, supporting Shark Science.

 RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation- Marine Science & Research, Shark Science & Conservation

I am thrilled that sharks at least get one week of intense attention, but in reality they deserve a lot more.