Monday, February 16

Protect Our Sharks


Most readers are likely accustomed to enjoying pleasurable stories of our life in Paradise, and, by and large, the sunsets keep things pretty rosy-tinted here.  But recently we learned of something so distressing that we cannot, in good conscience, sweep it under the rug.

A few days ago, a leopard shark was found dead on the beach and we have since learned that it had been thoughtlessly killed by local fishermen.  Paradise Taveuni is outraged that such a thing should happen.  We feel it is our duty to help educate the community on the value of sharks, not just to the tourist economy, but to the ecosystem itself. 

Yes, sharks attract tourists from all over the globe to dive in our waters and in doing so bring large amounts of money to our small island economy.  But more importantly, sharks play an important role in the health of the reef.  Like all natural predators in the wild, they feed on the weak including those that are sick.  By removing sick fish from the population they limit the spread of disease and make the overall fish population healthier, allowing the stronger fish to breed more vigorously.  A healthy population of herbivorous fish in turn clean algae from the reef and allow the coral to grow healthier providing more food and housing for other fish.  Sharks help support a reef with more fish for divers and fishermen alike.  One can compare it to raising a herd of livestock.  If you raise cattle and one of them gets sick you remove that one from the herd so it does not spread disease to all the others.  The shark performs the same function.

Sharks are often misconceived as dangerous animals.  In Fiji, writings from the early 1800s described sharks living in the larger rivers that would bite swimmers.  At that time newly-introduced European diseases were causing widespread epidemics of smallpox, measles, and other deadly killer infections.  The people died in such numbers that they were simply thrown into the rivers to dispose of them.  This practice led sharks to move into the rivers to feed on the abundant food supply of sick and dying people fulfilling their role cleaning the ecosystem.  Occasionally, an exploratory nibble discovered that the body was still alive, especially once immunity developed and the free food supply began to decline.  Today, shark attacks are extremely rare.

The leopard shark is a carpet shark meaning that it patrols the sea bottom.  It is extremely unlikely that it would ever bite a person, unless they were dead at the bottom of the ocean 60 meters down.  There is absolutely no reason to kill them from the wild.  The same is true of every other shark on the reef who prefers a free meal of something dead, sick, or if they absolutely have to work for it a fish or turtle, but never a person.

So, if while fishing, one ever gets a shark hooked on one’s line, which may happen when bait-fishing, do the right thing - cut the line and leave the hook to work itself out.  We don’t want anyone losing their fingers trying to get the hook out and its easy enough with a quick flip of the knife.  But to leave a shark dead on the beach is unthinkable.  It is destructive to the ecosystem and will lead to fewer fish for fishermen and divers, and is distressing to anyone on a casual walk on the beach whether they are a tourist or not.

We know this is one of those stories that everyone will find really weird to click that ‘like’ button on Facebook.  We’re not asking you to like what’s happened.  But we do want you to spread the word and ‘like’ that someone’s standing up for the rights of the sharks.  Many islands across the Pacific are making a pledge to make their waters shark sanctuaries.  If you think Fiji should protect its sharks click ‘like’ because that’s something worth feeling good about.
 

No comments: