A New Year means multiple things to different people. For Ian Campbell, Project AWARE’s new Associate Director Policy and Campaigns, it means embracing the challenges and opportunities a new role and New Year bring. From opportunities to secure international trade controls for mako sharks and act for the Sustainable Development Goals to engaging our global community in citizen science projects and promoting responsible shark and ray tourism, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Project AWARE and ocean conservation. Ian Campbell shares his views and goals for the year ahead of us.
New Year, New Beginnings
By Ian Campbell
As 2018 fades into the past and 2019 is already speeding onwards, I thought I would take this opportunity to pen my first blog piece as I start to find my feet in my new role leading the Policy and Campaigns team at Project AWARE.
In my previous guise managing WWF’s global shark and ray conservation work, I had collaborated with Project AWARE on many shark and ray issues, including advocating trade protections, catch limits and also developing responsible tourism guidelines for dive operators. I had always been impressed by the high-quality work that Project AWARE had consistently produced, with their (I would say “our”, but this was all done way before I joined) impressive ability to simplify complex issues, such as the journey of how shark products get to market. As an avid diver, I was also acquainted with the Dive Against Debris®program, where their (now I’ll say “our”) global army of divers make sure that every dive counts by collecting, then logging, all the marine debris that they come across underwater. To say that I was nervous about joining an organization that was able to produce this body of work would be an understatement.
2019 is an exciting time to join the Project AWARE team. With well-established and successful projects focusing on marine debris and shark conservation, this year provides a fantastic opportunity to capitalize on the great groundwork achieved previously. We are increasing our ambition to remove and record more marine debris faster than before, and we’ll also be analyzing all the data that has been submitted to us to try to answer some fundamental questions on how marine debris interacts with ocean habitats, and, more importantly, to come up with potential solutions. If you are planning a dive in 2019, you could be playing a big part of the solution. Even if you don’t see any trash (lucky you), then we need to know. Even submitting data that is a zero is just as important as those that see nothing but trash. Every piece of information is a key part of the marine debris puzzle.
2019 is also an important year to act for the Sustainable Development Goals and for shark conservation (although, if you ask me, every year is equally important). In May this year, the 18th meeting of the 183 countries that make up the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) is taking place in Colombo in Sri Lanka. These meetings occur every three years, and this time our focus turns to a shark that will be familiar to many of you, and some species you may never have heard of. Firstly, both shortfin and longfin makos, the world’s fastest sharks, are being put forward by 27 different countries and the European Union. Project AWARE and our partners in the Shark League have been pushing for reducing fishing pressure on mako sharks for a number of years, backed by everyone who signed our #Divers4Makos petition. Securing their inclusion on CITES will give us more ammo to push fishing nations to limit their catches, so again, it’s a call to arms to sign that petition and get makos listed. Two other, lesser-known families are also up for inclusion on CITES. Guitarfish and wedgefish, both kind of a weird cross between sharks and rays, are some of the most threatened species of elasmobranchs (that’s the term that covers all sharks and rays) due to the value of their fins and the relative ease to catch them. I will be attending the CITES meeting on behalf of Project AWARE and will be keeping the pressure on the government officials to make sure they understand that our global community of ocean adventurers have an eye on them. On this, we must all remember that even if we are successful in getting these species listed, we can’t sit back and think “job done”. CITES itself only partially restricts international trade in listed species, and doesn’t put any obligations on countries to reduce fishing pressure. We will also make sure that if countries support listing these species on CITES, then they will follow through with these commitments to actively reduce fishing pressure on sharks and rays.
Many of you reading this may also be planning on going on a vacation that might include coming up close and personal with sharks and rays, whether through diving or snorkeling. This year, we will be planning a major push to engage with our dive resort partners to ensure that they are working to the highest possible standards of responsible and sustainable tourism. We’re collaborating with Sustainable Shark Diving to provide a platform for you to rate operators on how they are doing while simultaneously offering guidance to operators on how to improve their practices through our Responsible Shark and Ray tourism guide. We’re also in the early stages of developing a major global project that will require your help.
Would I have accepted the job if I had known about all the work I was letting myself in for? Of course I would, only a fool would have turned down an opportunity to work with such a dedicated team backed by passionate supporters. Whether you will be able to help us with your fins on or fins off, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year...watch this space and join or support the adventure.
Mako Sharks Photos copyright Andy Murch - Big Fish Expeditions