The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Shark Conservation

Filed Under (Activism, Sharks, Special Events, Summer Sharktakular 2010, conservation) by Alexa & Cindy on 25-07-2010

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  All week long during the Sharktakular, we’ve heard guest posters encourage us to educate ourselves and those around us about sharks and shark conservation by forming groups, joining groups, and getting out there ourselves and making a difference. But we aren’t all ”.orgs” with nonprofit, government-recognized status, so how can we really help?

Sonja Fordham, president of the newly formed, non-governmental initiative Shark Advocates International,  joins the Sharktakular to tell us yes, we can and illuminates the important role of the non-govermental organization in shark conservation today.  

Sonja Fordham: I’ve been working in shark conservation for nearly 20 years and I have never seen a time when more conservation-minded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in the issue. This terrific development should give us all hope that the tide is turning and many more sharks will get the protections they need before it’s too late.

The NGOs I consider as “conservation minded” actually represent a range of perspectives including protection, sustainable fisheries, non-consumptive use, research, social equity, and animal welfare. As a result of these various core aims as well as differing skills, priorities and reach, these groups play a variety of roles in the development of shark fishing and trade rules.

I see this diversity as a strength of the shark conservation movement, in that together we cover many bases and bring many voices to the table. Of course, when groups representing all these perspectives agree, it can be particularly powerful.

Most of the NGOs engaged in shark conservation aim to promote healthy shark populations and stop overfishing and waste of sharks. Many also oppose inhumane treatment of sharks, certain fishing gear types or products, and/or shark fishing altogether.

Together, these groups generally serve to speak for the sharks and the public interest, educate the public and policy makers, balance short-term economic interests, bridge the gap between science and policy, and promote research. In terms of activities, NGO representatives might meet with government officials, provide testimony on proposed management actions, alert others to opportunities to influence such measures, issue reports and articles, generate media attention, serve on advisory panels, take legal action, hold rallies, and/or disrupt fishing operations or negotiations.

My new organization, Shark Advocates International, was established as a project of The Ocean Foundation to advance science-based national and international shark conservation policies. We specialize in translating scientific advice into fishing and trade limits through active participation in shark management debates and processes.

Long-term “in the trenches” experience helps us in our efforts to defend existing shark safeguards and promote positive changes. Most of our advocacy work is done in a collaborative way, mainly by forming coalitions of NGOs and scientists to take a common stand on a shark management issue and then making timely appeals to government on behalf of those interests.

The growing NGO interest in sharks is resulting in heightened sensitivity to the issue within governments and increased acceptance by more traditional stakeholders, as well as new and improved shark conservation policies. At the same time, NGOs remain outnumbered in the shark fisheries management arena and our battle is still an uphill one. In too many cases, time is running out.

I find great promise in on-line forums such as this one which are breaking new ground and uniting the diverse array of people who want to see sharks better protected. I am hopeful that together we can focus and enhance the influence of the NGO community with respect to shark conservation decisions and, in turn, build a brighter future for these valuable yet vulnerable animals.

We welcome your assistance with our cause.


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David Shiffman on How to Get there: part three of a three-part series on shark conservation

Filed Under (Activism, Sharks, Special Events, Summer Sharktakular 2010, conservation) by Alexa & Cindy on 24-07-2010

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 By WhySharksMatter


It’s easy to dream big and come up with impossible goals. It’s much harder to draw a realistic map showing how to get from where we are to where we want to be.


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.


Dr. Dirk Schmidt/Marine Photobank

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Shark Films: A Filmmaker’s Responsibility to Conservation

Filed Under (Sharks, Special Events, Summer Sharktakular 2010, conservation) by Alexa & Cindy on 23-07-2010

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Sharks on film – it’s an almost irresistible combination that can all but ensure the filmmaker a big hit, with wide viewership – but only if done in an all-to-familiar and irresponsible manner. We’ve been down that road, and it doesn’t work for sharks – and it shouldn’t work for us.

We’re very lucky to have nature and underwater filmmaker Richard Theiss, of RTSea Productions, on O4E, guest-posting on just this sentiment. Richard dives with and films sharks for a living; he should know.

Settle in for Richard’s take on how a filmmaker should stand by sharks – then check out RTSea’s blog – Keeping an Eye on Nature – for the latest exciting chronicles of his adventures.

photo by RTSea

RT: From the earliest days of filmmaking to today’s complex world of digital video, films have presented images of nature that have inspired, enlightened, and even frightened people around the world.

As we enter an era where critical conservation and environmental issues are being brought to the forefront more and more, nature documentary filmmakers have an increasing responsibility to be factually accurate while entertaining the viewer so that the audience will be motivated to protect our natural resources.

However, for filmmakers who work with sharks, as I do, this can be a particularly challenging proposition because of the near-primordial reaction that people have with sharks – a fascination, but one that is laced with fear and apprehension.

The temptation – perhaps the easy way out – is to play to that fear. Jaws, of course, would be a classic example and there have been many films and television programs since that seminal film that have done just that. But that simply reinforces the myths and misconceptions surrounding sharks. In fact, if a film does make a point of presenting factual information,  just one reference to a shark attack – particularly if it’s a visual reference – can nullify all the information meant to set the record straight regarding man’s true relationship with the shark.

In speaking engagements, I have often said that shark conservation is a tough sell. To be sure, there are dedicated shark advocates who understand both the important role that sharks play in a healthy marine ecosystem and the many threats these animals now face – but that represents a small number compared to the general viewing audience. Sharks are not afforded the “warm and fuzzy” factor that many terrestrial animals enjoy – the cuddly bear, the cute fur seal, or the seemingly wise and sociable whale. Sharks can seem cold and, as predators, lie just below the surface – waiting for us. That’s a tough image to work around.

Some shark advocates choose to swing the pendulum of perception from one extreme (“the only good shark is a dead shark”) to the other extreme (“sharks are gentle, just like a bunch of puppy dogs”), which I believe goes beyond what the typical viewer is willing to accept.

I prefer to play it right down the middle – the truth, and nothing but the truth.

And the truth is that sharks are predators and scavengers – extremely important predators and scavengers that help maintain the proper balance and health of the marine ecology.

 The oceans cannot survive without them.

Richard Theiss filming lemon sharks, photo by Christie Fisher

The message I try to convey to my audience is: you may not love them, but you must appreciate them. You can’t enjoy the jackrabbit or the deer without appreciating the coyote or the wolf. And you can’t enjoy the colorful reef fish or the comical seals without appreciating the shark.

I have been fortunate to dive with and film many different species of sharks – from great white sharks to tiger sharks to tiny bamboo sharks. As a professional who is being paid to gather the best images possible of these animals, that sometimes can put me at a degree of calculated and accepted risk.

These are wild animals whose behaviors can be studied and anticipated but never fully guaranteed predictable. And that is how it should be; we have entered the oceanic domain as strangers and we must play by the ocean’s rules. But throughout all my experience with sharks, I have never lost my understanding that these magnificent animals belong here – every last one of them.

So a pro-shark conservation approach does not limit the filmmaker in any way. Falling back on exaggeration or over-sensationalism is not necessary; the truth is that sharks are incredibly fascinating animals all on their own.

Richard Theiss filming a great white shark, photo by Gabriel Beyrent

If we are to change the strong economic and social attitudes that fuel today’s markets for commercial shark products – from shark fins to cartilage, liver oil, and more – then shark filmmakers must dedicate themselves to changing minds of people with solid, convincing arguments.

This is even more important when it comes to establishing perceptions in the minds of young people, the next generation that will have to live with the legacy of our thoughts and actions.

Shark films can be exciting, they can be entertaining, but they must be on-target. We owe it to the sharks; we owe it to ourselves – for our futures are intertwined.

~Richard Theiss

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