Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nominate Rick for a Shorty Award

I know that a few of you still read this blog. I need your help. My buddy Rick MacPherson has been an all around amazing guy for the last several decades -- I won't say exactly how many. In the conservation universe, he's the smart guy in the background that gives all the credit to the local kid (you know, like me!). In the time that I've known him, we've worked together to protect the Mariana Trench from overfishing and sharks in two oceans. I want to show him how much I appreciate him, so I nominated him for a Shorty Award.

Nominate Rick MacPherson for a social media award in the Shorty Awards! Nominate Rick MacPherson for a social media award in the Shorty Awards

I nominated Rick in the Activist category, although he could also be nominated in the Blogger category. He's been blogging about ocean issues nearly as long as me. In fact, he was one of the people who first hosted Carnival of the Blue, which eventually evolved into Science Oceans Online (this was like a decade ago, most of you kids were infants). There are other categories he could probably be nominated for, but I suspect that Healthy Living isn't one of them.

Nominating Rick is extremely simple. You just click on the banner above -- or the banner below. Then tweet to the organizers of the Shorty Awards why you think Rick should be this year's activist. I've nominated him for sharks and corals, but you could also nominate him for his support of equal rights.

Nominate Rick MacPherson for a social media award in the Shorty Awards! Nominate Rick MacPherson for a social media award in the Shorty Awards

And if you're on Twitter and you see other people nominating Rick (you can follow him @rmacpherson), please give those nominations a retweet (like my nomination at the top of this blog). Most of the people I know work in conservation and Rick is what many of us aspire to be (his hairstyle being the exception). So please, take a few minutes out of your day and give this great guy some love.

After you follow the link and tweet your reason for nominating Rick using their web form, there are other ways you can help:

1. You can help broadcast Rick's unique Shorty Awards url: on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites.
2. You can email your friends about Rick and ask them to nominate him.
3. You can write a blog about Rick and ask your readers to nominate him.
4. You can grab your friends phones and use their Twitter accounts to nominate Rick.
5. I'm sure there are other things you can do. Come on, Rick is a great guy! Let's win this for him!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Early Shark Conservation Has Been An Astounding Success

The first round of shark conservation is over. And it has been wildly successful.

Stop almost any American on the street and ask them about shark conservation and they will tell you about how sharks have their fins cut off alive and that their bodies are dumped at sea. This is called shark finning. Think about that. You are reading this blog and there’s a high likelihood that you probably know me and that I work on sharks, but did you already know this fact? I bet you did. I venture that nearly everyone in America already knows about shark finning. And they all know that it is bad.

So why do I still have a job if everyone in America already knows about my issue? Because shark conservation has moved beyond finning.

Shark finning public education has been one of the unheralded successes of environmental conservation outreach. There is more agreement in our country on shark finning than there is on fracking, the keystone pipeline, or climate change. And there is more awareness of sharks than there are of vaquitas or sage grouse. In fact, I bet you just had to Google vaquita.

Shark finning policy has been implemented in nearly every ocean and country around the world. President Clinton signed the United States shark finning ban in 2000. President Obama closed some loopholes in that ban in 2011. Last year New Zealand became the last non-Asian developed country to ban finning. I could run through the history of finning bans, but that’s not the point of this blog. There are currently no campaigns or efforts to ban finning anywhere in the world. This is because it is already banned.* Mission accomplished.

So why is it worth bringing up finning? I read somewhere that it takes about 10 years for scientific policy to catch up with scientific advice. The old scientific advice was to ban finning. After a successful conservation outreach campaign, nearly the entire world now knows that finning is bad and as a result it is nearly universally banned.

The scientific advice has now moved beyond finning. The paradigm shift on sharks likely started around 2006 with the publication of Shelley Clarke’s study estimating that up to 73 milllions sharks are killed each year (recently updated to 100 million sharks per year by Boris Worm et al). The new scientific advice is that many species of sharks (and rays!) are threatened with extinction and that they need protections. Sharks are worth more alive! Healthy reefs need sharks!

The advice of the conservation organization that employs me is to set catch limits for all commercially exploited shark species and to prohibit the landing of all shark species threatened with extinction. We also work with countries that have made the decision to end the fishing of all sharks in their waters. These shark sanctuaries are my particular focus. These are policies that will help restore shark populations to their previous abundance.

Yet finning still comes up all the time. There are constant calls to ‘end finning’ or ‘ban finning’ on Facebook and Twitter. Often times these calls to end finning are confused with calls to close the shark fin trade or end shark fishing, which are very different from finning. Shark finning determines how a shark is killed, not how many sharks are killed. Shark finning is an important, but lesser conservation policy. Shark fin trade bans and shark sanctuaries are heavy lifts.

It’s important for conservationists to use the right words when they are advocating. If we advocate for a shark sanctuary, but end up closing loopholes in the existing shark finning ban, there is less of a conservation benefit for sharks. The difference between finning, fishing, and shark fin trade bans are as different as going to the dentist and asking for a cleaning or a root canal. They both involve the health of your teeth, but they are very different things.

The next round of shark conservation will focus on setting catch limits, prohibitions, and creating shark sanctuaries, but we should also look back on the past successes of banning finning to drive us forward. The finning victories were hard fought and should be celebrated. Those policies were the stepping stones that have resulted in shark sanctuaries and threatened species listings on the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. But as a conservation community we need to be careful we are not confusing the public and policy makers by using the wrong words.

*There are still countries that fin sharks and actively oppose efforts to close loopholes in existing shark finning agreements. However, I am not aware that there are any domestic campaigns seeking to ban finning in Japan, China, or Korea.

I think about sharks and I write about sharks and I talk about sharks every single day. My expertise leans towards policies supporting full protections for sharks and I’ve spent the last five years advocating for shark sanctuaries around the globe, but I’ve also worked on trade restrictions, endangered species prohibitions, shark finning, and dreamed of catch limits.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aziz Ansari Tweets 8 Mile

I wish I thought of this first. Amazing

Friday, January 16, 2015

University of Miami Shark Tagging

Teach a Chamorro to fish and he'll likely never work again.
Last year during the Science Online Oceans conference I had the opportunity to go shark tagging with the University of Miami RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program.  Last Thursday I had the chance to do it again with my shark conservation colleagues from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

I think about sharks and I write about sharks and I talk about sharks every single day, but I actually get to see very few of them.  Last year I only saw living sharks on a few days (two dives in Fiji, a few dives in Palau, and a snorkel in the British Virgin Islands).  So it's a really special day when I get to go out and see them!

Intrepid Team #1 was made up of the Caribbean Shark Sanctuary All-Stars and the big boss.
The RJD lab has a very strong conservation focus.  The day starts with a conservation briefing on the boat.  David Shiffman did the honors.

David made one really great point in his talk that stuck with me.  There was a government official on a Caribbean island about a year ago who told me that he was part of the ecosystem, and couldn't he regulate the ecosystem as a top predator?  I was speechless, and said I'd have to get back to him.  I've heard about similar sentiments by native American groups on the West Coast who claim that their cultures are evolved in perfect harmony with nature.

David's point was that humans target the healthy, strong individuals in a fish population while sharks mostly eat the weak and sick.  Humans and sharks are very different top predators.  The next time I see that government official, I will have a better answer for him.

From nose to tail, this lemon shark was 197 cm (78 inches). That's about 7 inches taller than me!
The lab allows volunteers to help with taking several measurements and to insert the tags.  They also take blood and tissue samples.  The data is analyzed and used in over 10 different research projects at RJD.  I was able to measure and tag this lemon shark.  Later in the day I was able to tag a nurse shark.

The volunteers also get to help out with the fishing.  The lab sets out a series of drum lines, which are weighted and baited to sit at the bottom.  The volunteers help set the bait with giant chunks of barracuda, then we get to pull in the lines by hand.  I was able to pull in 4 of the 35 drum lines we set, and there were sharks on three of them, including a 260 cm (102 inches) bull shark.  That's a foot taller than Yao Ming!

I think this boat is big enough, but damn that's a big bull shark!
Sadly, it's possible that we'll be the last generation to see some of these species.  The bulls and lemon sharks are assessed as near threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List, meaning that they are not considered threatened now, but are close or likely to qualify in the near future.  The nurse shark is assessed as data deficient, meaning there just isn't enough data to determine its conservation status.  Overall, 30% of sharks (74 species) assessed by IUCN are threatened with extinction.  Additionally, just over one-quarter (68 species) of the assessed species are near threatened.

The nurse shark has a very beautiful, unique hide
In fact, if you can name a shark species, there's a good chance that it's threatened or near threatened with extinction.  The mako and thresher sharks are threatened, as are great whites, basking, and whale sharks.  The species you're most likely to encounter on the reefs around Saipan, grey reefs, whitetip reefs, and blacktip reef sharks, are all near threatened.

It was extremely exciting and fulfilling to be able to participate in this day of science.  The results from this work will help inform the management of these important predators.  The team of conservationists can't function without the work from the team of scientists.  Also, it was a hell of a lot of fun!

As I write this I'm back in the cold grey of Washington, DC fighting the good fight from behind a computer screen.  The day with the lab was a great reminder of why my team does what we do every day.

Thank you, University of Miami!
And of course it is always great to see Twitter celebrity David Shiffman, who has turned social media outreach into an art form.  The lab also keeps a very active Facebook page and posted more than 50 photos from our day on the water.