Sharks took a punch recently – this time literally. At the finals of the J-Bay surfing competition in South Africa this past July, a shark swam by contestant Mick Fanning. Everything happened in a split second, but the news outlets couldn’t seem to stop playing the clip of Fanning throwing his fist at the shark’s back before escaping on a jet ski. The crowd cheered, hailing Mick Fanning as hero.
The familiar shark attack story makes for sensational news, but it in no way resembles the typical shark-human interaction that plays out every single day. In the more typical occurrence, a shark is hauled out of the waters onto a speedboat where its fins are cut off, and in some cases, the body is thrown overboard to sink to the bottom of the ocean and die. The ecological balance of the ocean is under threat because we have an insatiable appetite for shark meat that is killing 100 million sharks yearly.
Hong Kong, the city that handles fifty percent of the global shark fin trade each year, has the power to reverse the damage done to the shark population, the ocean, and our world. This glimmer of optimism comes on the heels of a survey conducted by Bloom Association (The Survey on Shark Consumption Habits & Attitudes in Hong Kong) that shows that 85% of its 1029 respondents express support for a ban on the import of shark fin into Hong Kong. Hopefully, this indicates a willingness on the part of Hong Kongers to move away from traditional practices for the sake of sustainability.
Hong Kong Shark Foundation (HKSF), a local NGO dedicated to shark conservation and raising awareness plays an active role in alleviating Hong Kong’s shark consumption. In mid-February of this year, HKSF and WildAid (an NGO focused on reducing consumption of endangered species) staged a protest at Foo Lum Palace, a luxury Chinese restaurant that serves shark fin soup. Wearing faux blood-stained costumes, they confronted one of the biggest players in the shark fin trade. HKSF aims to do more to disseminate important information that would help shark conservation. Said Andrea Richey, Chair, Advisory Board, Hong Kong Shark Foundation, “If we want to make people more aware, if we want to get the word out, we need more people to be involved. We use a lot of volunteers. We really appreciate the work the volunteers have done. We would like to hire more people to help us with our campaigns, and we would like to grow our organization.”
To this end, the organization is holding a fundraiser, Cocktails For Change will take place on the 9th of March at Club Play, Lan Kwai Fong. “We don’t have institutions who support us,” explained Richey, “just everyday people to support us – people who want to make a difference, who want to help out.” What HKSF mean when they talk about raising awareness is addressing how the livelihood of sharks affects humans. As apex predators, sharks are keepers of the ecosystem balance. The demand for shark products has led to the dwindling of many shark species, driving sharks down the path of extinction. The total removal of sharks from the oceans would threaten the delicate balance of ecosystems that are valuable sources of food and key elements in regulating our climate.
Ensuring a healthy population along the marine food chain has a significant effect on humans. For instance, overfishing of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean has led to an eight-fold increase in their prey, the cownose ray, which feed on bay scallops. This led to the collapse of the scallop fishery. This example shows the clear dependence our livelihoods have on the livelihood of sharks. In addition to being a major source of food, our oceans regulate the earth’s temperature and generate approximately 50% of the world’s oxygen.
Sharks, By helping maintain biodiversity and keeping balance in marine ecosystems, sharks play a crucial role in sustaining healthy oceans. Said Stan Shea, shark conservationist with the Bloom Association, “We need to understand the impact we have on these resources, what are we trading, what species are we eating and which are endangered”. Jeopardizing the stability of our oceans is simply not worth the risk.
This article first appeared on http://www.ecozine.com/. It was republished on IntCa with special permission from the author and Ecozine’s Editor. http://www.ecozine.com/article/dying-for-fins