Today’s post comes from blogger Hannah Parry, also known as Hannah the Traveller. She’s going to discuss an important new documentary raising awareness of the plight of sharks, and what we can do to help.
The power of media. We’re still talking about the “Attenborough effect” — the impact on society’s conscience that Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 has had. Single-use plastic has become a hot topic, and Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers are making their voices heard. But they’re not the only ones having an impact, and climate change isn’t the only problem either.
Sharkwater is a series of films made by Rob Stewart to highlight the huge and devastating problems that various species of shark face all over the world due to human activity. I saw Sharkwater Extinction —– the second film. The movie begins with Rob and one or two others in Costa Rica, where shark finning is a major industry. If you weren’t aware (I wasn’t either), shark fin soup is a massive deal in some parts of Asia. And other shark parts are believed to have medicinal properties in some cultures. This brutal but highly lucrative trade involves slicing the shark’s fin off and then usually tossing the rest of the animal back into the water to die a slow death. Rob successfully campaigned in Costa Rica to make shark finning illegal. However, it is still carried out illegally on a massive scale, with the film showing the huge warehouses along uninhabited parts of the coast which are part of the industry’s infrastructure.
Rob also highlighted other problems that sharks face, which includes by-catch — when sharks are caught accidentally in nets meant for other fish. He was working towards exposing the impact of certain fishing practices when he died in a diving accident. It’s unclear what exactly happened, but Rob was using very specialised equipment (a rebreather) which he wasn’t very familiar with. Rob’s family and film team completed the film in his memory, and as I write this, a new law is close to being passed in Canada to help protect sharks – hopefully one of many more.
At the end of the film I felt overwhelmed by the scale of the issues exposed — how can change happen when it’s such a vast and complex problem? The issues are numerous and in some ways separate — shark finning and plastic pollution that affects sea creatures can’t be solved in the same way. However, Sharkwater provides action points on this page. Shark meat and oil find their way into many products you wouldn’t even think about (#govegan). Support campaigns online and spread the message. As we saw with Blue Planet 2, the more people who are talking about an issue, the faster change will happen.
I went to see Sharkwater Extinction with a bunch of people from Girls that Scuba — a largely online community of female scuba divers. We discussed the ethics of diving with sharks as tourism. Often, in must-dive destinations, sharks are fed to ensure the tourists get to see them. This potentially changes their behaviour and can have knock-on effects on the ecosystem, just for we tourists’ pleasure. But what if the growth of tourism in, for example, Costa Rica, meant that the government put greater protections in place for the shark population to encourage tourist dollars to be spent? Does that justify baiting the sharks? And what if, by diving with sharks, the risk to human life was put in perspective? People would be less scared of them and appreciate them for the incredible animals that they are. But we don’t know what the ramifications of feeding sharks are. Interfering with the ecosystem could mean that certain fish which sharks normally eat begin to overpopulate, which would have consequences. But surely a live shark is much better than a dead shark — even if there’s an element of human influence?
Sharkwater Extinction has a powerful message and such a sad, personal story — Rob Stewart comes across as a brave, passionate man. Go and see it for the amazing shark footage and the full story.
About the writer
When she can sit still long enough, Hannah the Traveller is a writer and blogger. The rest of the time, she’s running or hiking or cooking up vegan feasts somewhere in the world – or playing the organ! Find out more on her website.