The wait is almost over…it’s just about time to pull off those winter boat covers and set sail into the warmer season! Whether you’re just getting started in the ASA 101 course or you regularly cruise in your own vessel, learning to properly care for a sailboat is an important and necessary skill to have.
This guest blog is by Jim Abernethy, renowned underwater photographer and pioneer in shark encounters without a cage. For decades he has interacted with the world’s most notorious sharks, most of which are labeled as “dangerous species”. He is best known as a crusader for their protection. His award winning marine life images are often featured in top photography magazines such as Wet pixel and Nature’s Best Photography. While running shark expeditions his business has hosted many of the worlds top nature filmmakers and magazines such as Imax, National Geographic, BBC Wildlife and the Discovery Channel. Abernethy lives in Palm Beach, Florida. You are invited to visit his website at www.scuba-adventures.com.
Courtesy of Sailors for the Sea.
Sharks today are facing the threat of extinction. It is estimated that nearly 100 million sharks are needlessly harvested from the ocean each year. Scientists believe that if sharks become extinct we will essentially destroy the delicate balance that is necessary for the survival of thousands of marine species! Severe depletion of certain species is already revealing devastating effects in some areas of the world. Allowing the marine ecosystem to collapse is not an option for mankind. Considering the fact that at least one third of the oxygen we breathe, and a large percentage of the food we eat, come from the ocean, immediate change from present day practices must be mandated if we are to ensure a healthy future for all. We have the knowledge and means to implement prudent restrictions, but will we actually make the changes necessary to avoid an otherwise imminent environmental quagmire?
As a nature photographer, conservationist and owner of a live-aboard dive ecotourism business, I have lived at sea for the last decade; I spend the majority of my life underwater. Diving with large predatory sharks in their natural environment (without a cage) has allowed me to witness firsthand the true and gentle nature of these animals. What is also remarkably evident is the serious decline in their numbers. While my passion to observe and photograph sharks all over the world continues, it is undoubtedly becoming more challenging to find them. As a photographer and filmmaker, I strive to bring their beauty and magnificence to those who would otherwise not experience these awesome creatures up close; all in the hopes of inspiring more people to advocate for their survival. Most people only see sharks through the lens of the media that perpetuates the misconception that they are man-eating monsters. The truth is, we pose the greatest threat-not just to sharks, and marine life in general, but to our own existence on the planet. When we continue to exploit the ocean’s resources, instead of coming to a place of appreciation and ethical stewardship, we harm ourselves the most. Preservation of our biodiversity not only demonstrates vision, it protects the natural resources so essential to our own survival. Sharks are not dispensable.
There are roughly 500 known species of shark and they have graced this planet for nearly 415 million years. Yet today, sadly, only ten percent of the large predatory sharks remain worldwide-only three are protected by restrictions on international trade (the basking, whale and white sharks). Like mammals, most sharks mature late in life and only produce a few offspring; too often sharks are harvested before they have had a chance to reproduce. Present day fishery regulations, primarily designed for bony fishes, are not adequately protecting sharks. Species such as the great white, hammerheads, tigers, bulls, lemons, and oceanic whitetip sharks are likely to face extinction in the not too distant future unless a resolution for their preservation is demanded by the public and enforced by governments worldwide.
As mentioned in my new book, Sharks Up Close, the primary offenders to shark populations are the fisheries that provide catch for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup. The shark fins are cut off, then the fish is thrown back and left to drown. Because this occurs at sea, few people are aware of this inhumane routine. Can you imagine the public outcry if anyone could remove the appendages of selected land creatures (such as dogs), only to leave them in the street to die? We protect many national treasures by designating them as parks, but sadly we do very little to protect pristine offshore regions. At the time of this writing, while the Gulf coast is suffering incomprehensible damage from the BP oil spill, less than .5 percent of the world’s oceans are under some sort of protected status. According to leading conservationists, at least twenty percent of the world’s underwater areas should be protected as a marine reserve-the Gulf coast is a prime example of a location that needed those safeguards in place, for environmental and economic reasons. Palau is the first nation to designate an area as a “shark sanctuary”, and it is my hope other nations will follow this example.
Another major concern is the unsafe consumption of sharks because of the toxic levels of mercury found in them. “There is no known safe level of mercury”, according to World Health Organization. High levels of mercury may cause impairment of vision, speech, hearing, memory, and may also lead to sterility and sexual dysfunction. Outside of harvesting “poisoned” sharks for their meat, their existence is also threatened for the following reasons: fishing tournaments, commercial fishing by-catch, habitat destruction, and pollution. Some people believe shark cartilage supplements can cure diseases or heal ailments; it should be noted, there are no scientific studies to support this claim.
Many steps need to be taken to replenish shark and fish populations. As individuals, we can have a big impact on how business is done by being a conscientious consumer and only supporting sustainable fisheries. New regulations for fisheries-from the state level to worldwide-need to be put into place before it is too late. Better care of marine habitats and water quality is also key. Every effort makes a difference; from instituting marine reserves to private citizens signing petitions in protest of shark fishing tournaments. While “catch and release” is better than killing the fish, some species are unable to survive the trauma; especially true for larger species of shark. Global warming is of course also linked to the well-being of sharks.
It is our actions that have directly, and indirectly, caused them such harm; now it is us that must save them. John Sawhill said, “In the end, our society will be defined not by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.” We are their only hope; future generations of sharks, and people, are depending on us.
We can all make a difference:
- Join organizations like SfS that work to protect our oceans
- Boycott shark products and businesses that produce them, such as Shark Fin Soup; Shark liver oil (squalene) based cosmetics and creams — Preparation H for example and many face creams, lip balms, etc. Endangered deep water sharks are targeted for their liver oil, and plant based alternatives are equally if not more effective; Nutritional supplements like shark cartilage and shark liver oil. Scientific evidence does not support the health claims of these products.
- Shark Jaw Souvenirs
- Reduce, Re-use, & Recycle
- Support “shark-friendly” officials such as US Senator John Kerry – Sponsor of S. 850: Shark Conservation Act of 2009; US Delegate to Guam, Madeleine Bordallo – Sponsor of H.R. 81: Shark Conservation Act of 2009; and Senator Clayton Hee who authored and introduced the historic SB 2169 to Prohibit the Sale, Distribution and Possession of Shark Fins in the State of Hawaii. This bill has passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law within the next month by Governor Linda Lingle.
- Sign petitions that strive to PROTECT sharks from overfishing & pollution
- Fundraise for non-profit organizations such as: Shark Savers – http://www.wildaid.org/sharks; WildAid – http://www.wildaid.org; Shark Foundation – http://www.shark.ch; Iemanya Oceanica (Adopt-A-Shark) – http://www.iemanya.org
- If you fish, please practice “catch and release” and only fish for sustainable species
Learn what sharks are really like by going on a shark encounter with a reputable shark diving operation. Visit www.scuba-adventures.com to learn more about shark encounter expeditions.
There’s nothing the sailor likes more than a good ocean. We’re also fond of seas, straits, lakes, rivers, ponds, and puddles, but the lure of the wide ocean is particularly strong. Luckily for us, there are 5 of them here on Earth. And when you learn to sail, somewhere in the back of your mind is usually a dream of making an ocean crossing, or even sailing around the world.
President Obama has declared this month World Oceans Month, and today, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. What does this mean for you? It’s a good chance to reflect on the importance of keeping our marine environments healthy, and perhaps to enjoy a nice time on the water using the “greenest” method of travel there is: sailing!
Here’s a list of 5 things you can do to celebrate World Oceans Day.
You might also consider checking out these great organizations that work to preserve our oceans:
Lastly, don’t forget the small things you can do! NEVER throw trash overboard, especially plastic! Use the engine as little as possible–check out ASA instructor Greg Martin’s Electric Seas project for more on this. And most of all, keep on sailing and introducing new people to the sport, so that they’ll develop the same connection to the sea!
Continuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie have just finished a 6-month cruise in Mexico and are now sailing the Pacific Northwest.
In many other countries, fresh water is referred to as “sweetwater.” In Europe, as in, “Sweet, not carbonated.” In Mexico, as in, “Sweet, we can drink this!” It’s taken us quite a few weeks of being stateside to get used to the fact that we have unlimited fresh water available now, though we are trying not to grow so accustomed that we take it for granted. But it’s nice to not have to keep one ear tuned to the water pump in case the tank runs dry.
Velella is currently enjoying some R&R tucked away in her slip in Seattle, being bathed daily by sweetwater falling from the sky. Meanwhile, Prescott and I have been staying at his parents’ house in the Columbia Gorge, preparing for our upcoming wedding. When I wake up these days, I see 20 acres of rolling golden hillside, and the hulking snowy peak of Mount Adams out our window. Despite all the water flowing out of the Columbia River nearby, the sea feels very far away from “The Land.”
But the folks who live out here on The Land exhibit a level of conservation awareness that reminds me a lot of what we found in the cruising community. And in some ways, the cruising community could learn a lot from them. We walked over to the neighbor’s house to borrow something yesterday, and since I’d never been given the tour, I got to have a look around.
The main house was all of 500 square feet, but the design took advantage of that space so well that you’d swear it was twice the square footage. The concrete floors were luxuriously warm under my bare feet, heated by pipes that siphoned hot water directly from the woodburning stove that heated the room. The outdoor living space was three times the size of the indoor space, with beautiful grey-water-fed gardens downhill of the house, an enormous porch roofed with leafy vines, and an awesome cedarplank freshwater hot tub. Oh, and an outdoor brick oven in case you want some perfect woodfire pizzas. The lap of luxury, to be sure, but also quite possibly the greenest living space I’ve ever seen.
Behind the house an enormous 16-panel solar array pumped out three times the energy the owner needed. He simply feeds the excess energy he produces back into the grid (and gets paid for it by the state of Washington!). Next to the solar panels is a set of black glass tubes that essentially use the sun’s heat to passively heat the house’s hot water (to 140 degrees!). The bathroom is a small separate building, a glorified outhouse, and uses a fully compost-based toilet. (Note: It smelled nothing like an outhouse and way better than many normal bathrooms and certainly any ship’s head. Can you imagine how much cleaner the earth might be if we all composted our sewage?!) All the waste water from the house (such as kitchen sink runoff) was fed directly into the garden, where they grow all edible plants and vegetables.
W. O. W.
I mean, wow.
I smiled to learn that the owner of this home spent years of his life aboard a cruising sailboat–-sailing from South Africa through the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard with his family. He took all the best of cruising conservation know-how and applied it to land living in an almost seamless way. Small house, big yard? Solar panel power? Passive water heating? Sounds familiar. I hope very much that someday we too will make such an elegant transition from sea-green to grass-green living.