March 2012 saw the launch of the SFF Shark Project, a competition for youth aging 15 – 20 years old aimed at raising public AWAREness about the rapid loss of sharks caused by overfishing.
Project AWARE shark mascots, Finn and Finley, were invited to attend the press conference on March 31st when this national project was officially announced by the Belgian not-for-profit organization Sea First Foundation (SFF). At the press conference, Finn and Finley with help from Helene Diving Centre and SFF staff and volunteers collected over 500 petition signatures in support of Project AWARE's Give Sharks a Fighting Chance campaign.
The Shark Project contest runs until the end of 2012 and challenges participants to design and execute a team-driven campaign (a Shark Project) which will inform their community of the extreme overfishing of sharks.
“We believe it is important to inform Belgian citizens of the European Union’s involvement in the trade of sharks as EU fisheries are responsible for no less than a third of global shark catches,” says project manager Katrien Vandevelde. “We decided to conduct this campaign now in support of the European Commission’s current proposal to close the loopholes in the EU shark finning ban. European waters are home to 130 species of sharks and rays and about 30% of these species are threatened with extinction.”
An electronic information package was made available on the project website to assist contestants, creativity is encouraged and the scope of ideas is limitless.
The Shark Project also targets schools across Belgium. Teachers of upper secondary levels are encouraged to discuss the urgent shark conservation concerns with their classes and to coach teams of students. Additionally, SFF staff are available to present a free two-hour lesson on sharks and their plight, containing a presentation, a quiz, a discussion section and information on ways to protect sharks and tips on how to raise awareness in their own community.
The SFF board will judge the projects based on creative originality, professionalism, and capacity to raise awareness and teams can earn extra points by sending in signatures for the Project Aware “Give sharks a fighting chance” petition.
The grand prize winners will be offered a fully-catered, week-long marine life experience in Florida which includes a visit to a shelter for sea turtles, snorkeling in the world-famous Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, interacting with wild dolphins and participating in the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program of the University of Miami.
During this academic excursion, the students will assist scientific researchers with both the collection of shark blood samples and various body measurements, as well as with affixing satellite transmitters on two tiger, hammerhead or bull sharks. The transmitters will enable to track the animals on the internet for up to one year, providing important information about their movements, behaviors, and other biological and ecological factors.
“The study trip allows us to broaden the scope of attention from sharks to other marine life and to present marine ecosystems in their totality. Due to the fact that Belgium has only a very small coastal strip, people here tend to think that what is happening in the oceans is not important to them,” explains Dos Winkel, world-renowned marine photographer and founder of the Sea First Foundation. “The intensive experience with the beautiful but vulnerable underwater world will undoubtedly instill in these young people a feeling of responsibility toward the sea. Upon their return they will become our ocean ambassadors, as they will have witnessed the importance of healthy seas from up close”.
Prizes will also be awarded to other successful teams, including DVDs and books about sharks, entrance tickets to the aquarium, snorkel equipment, and dive trainings.