Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shark Conservation in Bonaire

I recently spent a week in Bonaire to talk to people about the importance of protecting sharks.  Bonaire is ahead of much of the Caribbean in that they already protect sharks in their near shore waters.  There is now a group of people dedicated to extending those protections out to the full Exclusive Economic Zone.

I came to the islands at the invitation of Kalli at the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance.  Her organization is working with local partners on all six islands of the Dutch Caribbean to create shark sanctuaries, as well as to conduct shark research, education, and outreach.  I'm helping them implement these laws and so far have also visited Curacao, St. Maarten, and Saba, in addition to Bonaire.  I spent an entire day with Kalli and the DCNA members at their office making plans for the year.  When the morning started I gave a presentation to DCNA and several local and national government officials.

During my field visit I also gave a public lecture at the CIEE Research Station Bonaire.  You can click on the photo to see the title of my talk.  It was something about sharks.  They filmed it, so there's a good chance there's a copy of my talk floating around in cyberspace.  I apologize in advance for my jokes comparing the BBQ in Bonaire to the oildown in Grenada.  We had a short question and answer session afterwards and the discussion was mostly about enforcement and the rarity of sharks around the island.

I had several sessions with the STINAPA Junior Rangers.  This is an amazing program run by the government that trains young adults in all sorts of useful things like fish identification and SCUBA diving.  At the end of the program they are certified dive masters and have the skills to be hired as park rangers.  The students invited me to be a judge -- actually, THE judge -- at their annual end of year debate.  This year's topic was sharks.  Julia and Sebastian -- pictured here -- were on the team that was advocating for the creation of a shark sanctuary.

The debate coincided with the end of year graduation ceremony.  The master of ceremonies for the event was the governor of the island, and I had the opportunity to have a few words with him.  He's been supportive of DCNA's shark conservation efforts and I thanked him for his support.  I also told him I liked his shirt (I really do!).

I think I met with the staff of CIEE nearly every day.  They've been helping out the Junior Rangers with their shark lessons and the debate and are interested in getting more involved in the passage of shark conservation measures across the entire Dutch Caribbean.  From left to right, that's Martin, Molly, and Serena.  They took me to the most amazing BBQ place ever about two hours after we took this photo.  You can dig through my Twitter feed for photos (sorry, not even I want to dig through my Twitter feed).

It's amazing how quickly time passes on the islands.  There's never enough time.  This was one of my longest field visits in some time and it was really fulfilling being able to spend more than an hour a day with people.

I'm excited to see what people in Bonaire do in regards to sharks in the coming months, especially the kids in the Junior Rangers.  I shared with them some of videos of kids in Guam and Saipan advocating for shark protections and I expect these kids to be just as amazing.

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