Most of you reading this already don’t eat shark fin soup, and many of you don’t eat foods with high shark bycatch. That’s great, but while I have a pretty high opinion of myself, even I don’t believe that I reach enough people through my writing to make a difference in a major global issue. Not directly, at least.
The key to achieving the goals of the shark conservation movement (and the conservation movement in general) is education. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but I fervently believe that sharks aren’t in trouble because no one cares what is happening to them. I believe that sharks are in trouble because no one knows that sharks are important to a healthy ecosystem, and no one knows that sharks are in trouble.
The absolute best thing you can do is to learn about sharks and tell others. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your classmates or tell your co-workers. Tell them that sharks matter, and tell them that sharks are in trouble. Tell them not to eat shark fin soup, and not to eat seafood with high shark bycatch. Tell them to support shark conservation legislation by calling their elected officials.
What you should NOT do is support violent groups that claim to “fight for the sharks” through “direct action”. These groups are not only ineffective, but they are counterproductive to the cause of conservation. The conservation movement is a PR war, and we will win through facts and persuasive argument- NOT through trying to hurt people who disagree with us.
Another common (and flawed) solution is to not eat seafood at all because of environmental concerns. If all of the people who care about the oceans stop eating seafood, it’s impossible for conservation-minded folks to “vote with their wallets” and support more environmentally friendly methods of catching fish. I instead recommend eating Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable seafood.
Graduate students such as myself lack the resources to donate significant amounts of money to conservation NGO’s (non-governmental organizations), but if any readers are looking for my opinion on what NGO’s to trust, I have a few. Oceana doesn’t focus specifically on sharks, but I love almost all of what they do. WildAid also has a broad focus, but their anti-finning campaigns are wonderful (they recruited Yao Ming, who is a huge celebrity in China, to be their spokesman). The Save Our Seas Foundation does a lot of inspiring work with educating children about the importance of sharks and other sea life. The Shark Research Institute is a small but great organization that focuses on both conservation and science. Sonja Fordham’s Shark Advocates International is a new organization, but Sonja is legendary within the shark conservation community and I know she’ll accomplish amazing things with SAI.
If you are looking for a source for shark-themed gifts that help sharks, I have a few suggestions. Iemanya Oceanica’s “Adopt a Shark” program makes a good gift, and promotes shark research. The American Elasmobranch Society student store raises money for young shark scientists to do important research. My own Southern Fried Science store sells “Sharks Matter/No finning gear”, which raises money for the charities I’ve listed above.
Many people claim that it’s too late to save the planet. I couldn’t disagree more.
The problem is a big one. The goals are difficult, but they are achievable in some form. Now that you know what to do, get to it.
To paraphrase a famous Donella Meadows quote, we have exactly enough time to save sharks and save our oceans… starting now.