When Lee Johnson, owner of Perth Scuba in Western Australia, first read the AWARE Shark Conservation Study Guide he was horrified by the number of sharks killed every year. "The figures were very sobering. It makes you want to act to protect them, NOW!"
Lee has always had a fascination with sharks. Now Lee teaches AWARE Shark Conservation to inform his divers of major ocean protection issues and tell them how they can act locally and internationally to protect sharks.
"They might be a little apprehensive at first, but as soon as they become comfortable with them – they are so excited to have seen them. To be able to come close to a shark and even photograph them is a real buzz for everyone," says Lee.
But more importantly Lee recognises the role played by sharks in keeping the ocean healthy. A desire to protect the ocean compelled Perth Scuba to join a campaign for new marine protected areas for south west Australia. Recently Lee represented the Western Australia dive industry in high-level negotiations to help gain protection in a region where as much as ninety percent of marine life is found nowhere else on earth.
"It’s great that AWARE Shark Conservation gives us a way to tell our divers about our local issues and campaigns. Awareness is the first hurdle. Once people see the damage done by taking too many sharks and the massive reduction in shark populations, they look at things differently and change their perception."
"Sharks have a really bad public relations rap. With this course we can help change that. Divers can help canvass to have areas protected and some shark species taken off the commercial fishing agendas."
AWARE Shark Conservation also shows divers how to discover their local sharks (or sharks of interest if no sharks are found in the location). For Perth Scuba Instructor Marc Van Der Poel, this feature is a highlight of teaching the course. "In class, we followed the links supplied in the Lesson Guides and found the conservation status of local sharks. Even my experienced students were unaware that some of our sharks are threatened. Right there in the classroom, students used their smart phones and tablets to learn about sharks!"
For Lee the shark conservation message is so important he is building the course into Perth Scuba’s regular dive packages. "We will run AWARE Shark Conservation as a Project AWARE specialty and we have also spoken to our Instructors about adding the course onto our Open Water Diver courses. Since we told our customers about AWARE Shark Conservation, we have had very positive feedback and interest in it."
Although Lee enjoys teaching the course he is very aware of the seriousness of the shark conservation message. "The current catch rate of sharks is dangerously high and not sustainable. We must stop wiping out our sharks before we hit the point of no return."
To find out how you can help protect sharks contact your local PADI Dive Centre to complete certification as an AWARE Shark Conservation Diver. Divers and non-divers can learn more about shark conservation and how they can help protect sharks by reading the AWARE Shark Conservation Study Guide.