Today I gave a presentation on Sharks in Peril to students of International School of Samui. The information for the presentation was adapted to be a bit easier for the students from the Project AWARE Shark Conservation Course. The 15 lucky students were especially selected to attend the presentation for their exceptional performances in classes and not as punishment for bad behavior as I thought!!
After Introductions and finding out what the students already know and thought about sharks we began by going through why we should care about the problems faced by sharks and what an important role they play in maintaining a good balance in marine ecosystems. We looked at how the food chain works and what sharks contribute being at the top of the food chain. We then discussed what a healthy shark population contributes to places like the Maldives and Palau where tourism, in particular diving related tourism, makes up a very large amount of the local economy.
The next part of the presentation covered the threats that are making around 30% of shark species close to extinction. We discussed the fact that most sharks take a long time to reach sexual maturity and produce and when they do they only produce in small numbers. The fact that many sharks are caught before they have had the opportunity to reproduce was an obvious factor in the decline of shark populations. We looked at overfishing and how around 38 million sharks are caught globally every year. I explained about Bycatch and how not only sharks but turtles, dolphins, rays and other fish are accidentally caught in nets by fishermen fishing for other species. We then watched a very sad video about Shark finning which explained why there is such a large demand for shark fins, showed how the shark’s fins are cut off while the shark is still alive and writhing around before being thrown back into the sea to drown or be eaten by other predators. One student asked a very obvious question which I unfortunately couldn’t answer: “Why don’t they kill the shark before cutting off it’s fins?” We also discussed why the fishermen chose to throw the shark carcass back into the sea to save space on the boat rather than take the whole shark ashore.
During the last part of the presentation we looked at what they could do to begin making things right so that in many years to come people will be as fortunate as I have been to get the thrill you get when you get to dive alongside a beautiful Whale Shark or even a scary but amazing Bull Shark . We talked about them telling people about the problems sharks face, encouraging people not to buy shark related products and to make sure all of their friends, family, friend’s family, family’s friends all boycott restaurants that have shark on the menu and to explain to people why the restaurant is wrong and shouldn’t be getting our money. We talked about how every little bit they do as individuals helps and how much they could make a difference to the future of sharks by taking an interest and joining with other people who care about the oceans. They were then invited to join Project AWARE to find out about what is going on to help protect sharks and other issues.
The students from ISS were a pleasure to teach, showed a lot of interest throughout the presentation and asked lots of good questions. Hopefully the students enjoyed learning about the problems sharks face and will be part of the solution in years to come.
They also managed to teach me something I didn’t know about sharks which was that Tiger Shark fetuses eat other fetuses while still in the mother’s womb. It just goes to show that no matter how much knowledge you have you can always learn from others, even those you are there to educate!!