As I child, I remember having this intense fascination with the world. From seashells to sharks, everything was intriguing. When I taught shark anatomy and conservation at Quogue Wildlife Refuge this summer, I was able to see this fascination once again. As I passed around a real shark tooth, the kids looked up in awe and wonder. Instead of shuddering with fear, the students raised their hands, wanting to know more about these creatures.
When we grow up from this phase of fascination, we begin to turn away from parts of our world. What we are taught to dislike, we dislike. What we are taught to love, we love.
In the preteen years, children become intrigued, not by sharks, but by the thrillers that vilify them. The stories of Shark Week and movies like Jaws are broadcast to children across the nation. Though these stories are often over-dramatized for effect, they shape a child’s outlook on sharks nonetheless. Thus, at a very tender and formative time in one’s life, biases against sharks become engrained in the human mind.
By writing a children’s book, I hope to dispel the negative myths surrounding sharks before children are exposed to them. I also hope to motivate young children to develop a familiarity with sharks and inspire them to become future advocates for the protection of our ocean!
Alexandra helps students create shark-tooth necklaces (with fake shark teeth, of course)
Though the repercussions of overfishing are now clear, are there other consequences for humans? The answer is yes. Even if overfishing is not one of your major concerns, you should still be worried about shark consumption.
As a result of current pollution, toxins, especially from that of agricultural waste, are strong by the shorelines where many sharks roam. These toxins become more concentrated up the food chain as one fish eats another. With sharks as the apex predator, toxin poisoning becomes a major concern.
In fact, researcher Jann Gilbert of Southern Cross University studies mercury content in sharks and released her findings at the Sharks International Conference of June. Ms. Gilbert found that in her study of Great White, Dusky and Sandbar sharks, two of the three species had mercury levels ten times that of safe levels.
So, all environmental reasons aside, you should think twice before ordering shark meat, or the infamous ‘shark fin soup.’
The moral of today’s post is to stay safe with what you eat, and stay tuned for a book preview next week!
So we understand why sharks are in peril. But is there hope for marine ecosystems?
Luckily, the answer is yes. Though we’ve discussed the trouble that sharks are in, ecotourism, policy movements and many individual organizations and people are making promising efforts for change.
Sharksavers works to educate, inform and involve the public to protect these beautiful creatures. Currently, they lead the “I’m FINished With Fins” campaign across Asia in 25 countries. This campaign works to decrease the consumption of Shark fin soup in Asia where it is considered a delicacy. Though highly profitable, the shark fin trade in Asia encourages unsustainable practice of shark finning.
Project Aware is a movement that promotes the protection of our oceans through scuba divers. One of their main projects is ‘Sharks In Peril’ which gives divers the resources to become Shark advocates. Divers can gain their AWARE Shark Conservation certification and can work with Project Aware in supporting other conservation movements.
Both Sharksavers and Project Aware encourage people to speak out for the protection of sharks. Since awareness is the first step before creating change, many organizations advise individuals to spread the word.
In my case, I am writing a children’s book that serves to educate and inform children in an engaging manner. By gearing my efforts towards the younger generation, I hope to help these future leaders make informed decisions, and to encourage a new generation of ocean ambassadors.
Watch out for a book teaser in the coming weeks!
photo: Students speak out for shark conservation with National Geographic emerging explorer Tierney Thys (Belize 2013). A photo from my Marine Conservation trip to Belize with National Geographic student expeditions.