Cat Island, Bahamas has quickly become the new shark rush for one of the rarer species of sharks, the Oceanic whitetip.
This is good and bad news and a test bed for what could be ground breaking shark site development - or the same old multi-user experience with some terrifically bad industry video, a few close calls, and the inevitable shark catch drama/round of "save the" petitions.
You would have to be living under a moss colored rock to not know that Carcharhinus longimanus is rare for one reason only, it has been finned and caught almost to extinction, with an estimated 99.3% drop in the Gulf of Mexico alone.
99.3%, that's a pretty compelling figure.
So now, thanks to a well know shark operator, the Magellan of our industry (and I say that with complete respect) we now have a new site, with a premier shark species, and at least two perhaps three operators vying for the shark season.
The Good News
There's a perfect tie-in to Carcharhinus longimanus and a recent push by the Bahamas National Trust and PEW to make the Bahamas a shark sanctuary. Every good shark conservation effort needs it's charismatic megafuana. Ladies and gentlemen, you don't get much better than a critter that has been pushed to 99.3% of it's once robust population to garner public support for conservation.
In fact Cat Island could be the rally point for the entire effort and the species that makes the Bahamas a true shark sanctuary...but the operators servicing this site will have to do the conservation leg work.
Not doing so will inevitably lead to a sport fishing conflict. As bees are to honey, the chances of a sport fishing boat out of the Bahamas or Florida deciding to cater to the "rarest shark species" is almost too good to pass up. Even if the site comes under the banner of a shark sanctuary, as we discovered last week off the coast of California, there's a sport fishing outfit with five boats offering white sharks at $1800 a day. White sharks have been protected off our coasts since the mid 90's.
I am going to suggest the following:
1. A Bahamas Carcharhinus longimanus educational website. This site will feature the animals, the site, the conservation status of these animals, and tie-in directly to ongoing efforts of PEW and the BNT. The site would also feature several pro-shark conservation PSA's, just the sharks, not the divers and the sharks. We're not looking to redefine these animals, or even make a simple point about how safe they may or may not be with divers, that conservation/industry message can be left for another time and place. Under conservation also add research and a non profit donations page.
Additionally this should tie into PEW Trusts, and here's why. Conservation efforts need to be funded, real shark conservation sometimes requires a "step back moment" where you have to realize who has the conservation horse power to get something done or not. After all we're in this for the sharks, if someone can run the ball into the end zone let's get it done. Hanging any conservation effort on the mantle of friends and industry buddies who lack the horsepower does nothing for sharks...but that's another post for another time.
2. A Bahamas Carcharhinus longimanus research effort with immediate tagging and tracking of these animals. This effort should be a "Bahamas thing" and there's plenty of folks who can get the job done, they just need funding. In addition operators could charge an extra $100 per diver for the project. Divers will pay for this, gladly, if they believe this benefits the sharks, and it will.
Some of you will start screaming right about now as you wipe off your Epoque D170 Dome Ports, tags on Carcharhinus longimanus? Yes, tags, and here's why. If you want to hedge against sport fishing interests, declaring this site an active shark research site will get the job done. It lends instant credibility to the counter charge that shark divers are just making money from these sharks, and with real data, Bahamian conservation laws put on the books have teeth.
3. Cross operator conservation promotion. Every operator servicing divers and Carcharhinus longimanus at Cat Island should have the new conservation website and research efforts on their own sites home pages with a set industry dive protocol agreement. Again a tall order, but we're talking about a brand new shark site with just two or three guys. This is not Isla Guadalupe, or even South Africa. As industry members we can look back and see with 100% clarity where non action will lead us at Cat Island. Is it too much to ask for a round of phone calls, two websites and a conservation tagging program?
I think not, and done right this could be the shining beacon on the hill for future sites worldwide.
So that's the good and bad. I am sure there will be 20 or so more ideas that could come forward to make Cat Island all that it could be, or not. We don't have any designs to operate here so we don't have a dog in this fight, but oh, the possibilities for something unique, something great, and something lasting are...endless.
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Patric Douglas CEO