Monday, January 14, 2008

5 Questions With An Eco-Disaster Educator

We had a chance to chat with Duncan Carson owner and brains behind the on-line website Stop Shark Finning. Estimates vary between 70 and 100 million sharks a year are being hacked apart for just their fins. Often the animals are processed while still alive and then kicked back into the ocean. His website stands on the front line of this critical environmental issue from both an educational standpoint and as a warning to the over harvest of today's oceans.

1.What was it that caused you to get up one day and say "I am getting active"?

It was after I had read an article on The Guardian website by George Monbiot titled "Sharks deserve the conservation status we give to the Giant Panda". The article really stuck in my mind. The idea that sharks were being slaughtered in such a cruel and wasteful way just to make shark fin soup repulsed me so much that I decided I had to do something. I think the day after I read the article I started a MySpace page and a few days after that I got up a basic version of the website.

2.Why sharks? It seems almost any marine animal you encounter needs some kind of help these days.

I was motivated by Monbiot's article to try and make people realise what is happening with sharks. I realise that there are many animals in danger, but
I think that even if you focus on one animal, any positive effects that your work has will have benefits for other animals that live in the same ecosystem. Protecting sharks, a top predator, will have a knock-on effect on other life forms. The other important thing to mention is that sharks get a bad press. They are the underdogs of the oceans, but they are a vital part of a healthy marine ecosystem, and people need to realise that the extinction of sharks in the wild will have a devastating impact on the oceans.

3.Who are the main culprits in this ongoing eco slaughter?

It's a long chain problem that weaves its way throughout society. The fishermen who kill the sharks so inhumanely and wastefully, the people who eat shark fin soup without stopping to think what the effects of their behaviour are, the restaurants who sell it, the mafia who make a fortune from it, the politicians who turn their heads the other way, the media who have done next to nothing to highlight the problem and who just perpetuate the myth about the shark being a man-killer, companies like who are brokers for the shark fin mafia, Yahoo who have a massive investment in Alibaba.I must say though that almost everyone who I have told about shark finning is revolted by it and several people have stopped going to restaurants that sell shark fin soup. One of the main problems is just ignorance. Not enough people know about shark finning, but once they find out about it they are very keen to put a stop to it. The reaction from the public in general has been very good.

4.What is a solid solution to this issue, beyond telling a culture they are bad for eating soup?

The only solution is to completely ban the finning of sharks on board shipping vessels, and to effectively and strictly enforce the ban with massive fines and even jail sentences for offenders. There has to be an international agreement to enforce this ban in international waters.Specific countries have legislated but unfortunately it is not enough. Many sharks are migratory, so we need an
international solution. However, education is also extremely important.

5.Do you make a difference, and how could others get involved?

I know I have made a difference in a small way - there are more people aware of the issue now than if I hadn't done anything. But I have been disappointed by the lack of response from multi-nationals such as Alibaba and Yahoo! - I know they have made an occasional response to one or 2 other campaigners but I have become more cynical about such corporations since starting this site. They care nothing about the future and only care to make a fast buck: the only "future" they care about is the next financial year. Their comments to the media are full of distractions, half-truths and lies. Their actions benefit a very small minority and worsen the quality of life
for the vast majority.

Tell other people about shark finning - the media are paying no attention so it has to be a grassroots thing - so just tell people about it, your friends, your family. Email people with a link to, write to Alibaba and Yahoo! and your political representatives, complain to restaurants that sell shark fin soup (and don't eat there), add us on myspace, start your own shark page or site, get a t-shirt (all proceeds go to Sea Shepherd), and support organisations that contribute to shark well-being, such as shark diving companies, because the more money that countries can make out of conserving sharks, the less they will tolerate their slaughter.

I would like to add that I don't know how much of a difference I will make, but I do know that if someday my daughter asks me why people didn't try to stop sharks becoming extinct that I will be able to look her in the eye and say "I tried". For that alone it is worth it. If everyone tries to do something about an issue they care about, surely we can make the world a better place?

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