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Phoenix Sharks Go Free!


One of the most common questions divers ask us as soon as they walk into Calypso Diving Center is, “will we see sharks?” These beautiful, misunderstood and incredible creatures are under constant threat the world over despite their existence being essential to the future of life on earth.

Project AWARE are trying to tackle the worsening shark situation, and are calling upon governments around the world to provide better protection for sharks via their 2012 campaign “Big Shark Shout Out”. They are encouraging divers and the ocean-loving community at large to stand up and raise our influential collective voice against shark fishing, finning, and the common misconception of sharks as something to fear.

When our divers ask us if they’ll see a shark on their dive around Boracay the typical response is, “well, fingers crossed!”; unfortunately it is far from a guarantee. Returning from a beautiful (if shark-free) dive to the new TriBird Wreck, we were surprised to spot two sharks sitting in a tank at a Chinese restaurant metres from the dive shop. We lamented that the only sharks you see on a dive should not be on the walk back from the boat.

Later that day, armed with a handful of Project AWARE’s “I shouted for sharks” stickers, Divemaster-in-Training and AWARE Shark Conservation Distinctive Specialty Diver, Denéa Buckingham, accepted the task of discussing the situation with the restaurateurs and ideally negotiating the release of the sharks.

Both sharks are nurse sharks, flown in by the larger hotel conglomerate responsible for the restaurant and attached hotel, a popular accommodation destination for Chinese tourists. Shark meat has been on the menu but, as Denea soon discovered, is rarely ordered; less than once every 6 months, according to the staff. The result of discussions was better than expected with the head chef, also a scuba diver, agreeing to remove shark from the menu and to use only synthetic ‘shark taste’ products in the restaurant’s dishes.

Rene Buob, CEO Of Calypso Diving and Pinjalo Resort, then negotiated the release of the two sharks. Nicknamed “Ni” and “Hao” the sharks eagerly awaited their imminent freedom. Overnight the Calypso team revved up supporters in more than 40 countries who watched Ni and Hao’s release through social media including Facebook, Twitter and Project AWARE’s MyOcean. A crowd of divers, locals and tourists gathered on White Beach outside Calypso Diving and Resort at 10am the next morning as the sharks swam free.

Nurse Sharks are classified as data deficient on the IUCN Red List (follow the link to read more). Some scientific studies suggest that these sharks prefer to remain in one area. Maybe Ni and Hao will stay around Boracay, so look out for them on your next dive, and if you see them say “ni hao!” (hello in Chinese).

Story by Denéa Buckingham and photo by Rene Buob

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