Sunday October 14, 2012
Need for protection
I READ with interest the article Shark watch (Ecowatch, Oct 9), on the dire situation that sharks around our coastal waters are in. We are in serious need of a new perspective if we are to continue having our finned friends in our marine backyards. And if your article is anything to go by, time is certainly not on their side.
We need an urgent re-think on how we view these animals. Not the dreaded creatures that slice through the murky waters of our imagination with their sickle-shaped dorsal fins, but the very vanguard of evolutionary resilience that they are. Not the bloodthirsty beast of Peter Benchleyís Jaws, but the more mecurial protaganist in Peter Matthiessenís Blue Meridian. Not the misguided notions of healing and virility that they symbolise, but the very diversity of the marine environment and our natural world that they have come to epitomise.
From the oceanic white tip which patrols the farthest reaches of the open seas much like camels roaming an empty desert, to the bull shark which navigates thousands of kilometres up some of the largest freshwater rivers in the world due to their unique adaptations, we owe a salutary nod to this most incredible of species that we are privileged to share our world with.
I have no doubt that we have a long way to go in Malaysia before we turn some of these general attitudes around and adopt some of the best practices in places such as the Bahamas, where sightings of 6m tiger sharks and great hammerheads are still a possibility due to the protection that these majestic animals have been accorded there.
The cause is not lost, however; when you set aside the protection, marine life responds and recovers in ways that are nothing short of astonishing. This is true as well here in Malaysia.
During my own scuba diving excursions, I notice a curious phenomenon every time I visit Pulau Tioman. A small rocky outcrop (called Renggis) barely minutes from the bustling Berjaya Hotel Resort harbours a stable and thriving population of blacktip reef sharks in comparison to the more remote outermost islands, which are often touted as better diving sites but where I have not had such sightings.
What could explain this? It could very well be that the outermost islands do not benefit from the protection that Renggis has (being closer to the main island and away from the plying fishing boats and trawlers further offshore). And it is quite possible that the sharks have figured this out and shelter here instead. And itís not just the sharks Ė turtles, cuttlefish and a whole host of other creatures seem to have also figured this out.
Protection is key and itís not too late to re-think the legacy that we wish to leave behind both for our finned friends as well as the next generation.