Sharks are crucial to marine ecosystems. They maintain a balance in populations of prey species and keep the ocean healthy by removing ill or diseased animals. They are an important resource supporting local economies through fishing and as an attraction to dive tourists.
But sharks are in global decline. Overfishing has reduced many shark populations around the world to levels that threaten their continued existence. Shark numbers have fallen by more than 80% in many cases and the continued existence of some species is at immediate risk in some regions.
The Gili islands are no different. Numbers of black and white tip reef sharks have dwindled over recent years due to destructive fishing practices including cyanide and dynamite fishing. In an attempt to reverse this trend, recent changes in legislation have created a marine protected area around the three Gili islands. In addition, the Gili Eco Trust has reached an agreement with local fishermen to designate legal fishing areas and appropriate methods.
Last month, a group of shark advocates came together to study the AWARE Shark Conservation Dive Distinctive Specialty. Tom, Sian, Jill and Roxy, (who won the course at the AWARE quiz night in April).
The slides were accompanied by some clips from the movie Sharkwater which together produced some horrifying facts and figures, enough to reduce some of the group to tears. It wasn’t all harsh information though; the slides included some tips on how to identify sharks, the evolution of sharks and pictures of many different species of our aquatic friends.
The first dive of the course was to Deep Turbo. A dive site known for its amazing formations, healthy coral and changeable currents. It used to be famous for regular sitings of white tip reef sharks and leopard sharks. However the group was not lucky enough to see them that day. We used it as an excuse to clear up some debris and take photos of fishing boats spotted in the marine protected area, which were photographed and reported to the government.
The second dive of the day was to Shark Point. Donning the shark hats, we embarked on our mission, but again, no sharks were spotted. A sad realization where two dive sites previously notorious for being home to many sharks are now home to far less, and encounters are becoming a rare treat.
In good news though, all of the shark hats survived the current and are ready for the next course!
The AWARE Shark Conservation Dive Distinctive Specialty is available at Trawangan Dive on request. It’s perfectly suited to those who are passionate about the aquatic realm and who want to learn more about the threats faced by our shark friends.