Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bimini Hammerheads, Shark Protocols, Common Sense

 Greetings from Bimini,

With the enormous amount of interest that the Great Hammerheads are generating around Bimini this year, I wanted to attempt to to set the record straight regarding this incredible situation happening around the island.  I don’t mean this message to be confrontational or self-righteous, rather I’m hoping it can be informative and maybe even helpful.

As anyone familiar with Bimini has probably already assumed,  the researchers at the Bimini Biological Field Station (SharkLab) are responsible for discovering and determining the regularity and reliability of diving with these big hammerheads.  The SharkLab staff began diving with these sharks on a regular basis back in 2003, and since then have utilized various ‘hammerhead sites’ around the island for numerous research projects and related expeditions.  Obviously the hammerheads were around long before that, and can be found in more than one location around Bimini, but all of the visiting “shark diving” boats are utilizing sites and situations developed by local SharkLab researchers.

Due to the rarity of interacting with these sharks, and the incredible potential for research opportunities on an IUCN Redlisted species, local guides and tour operators have resisted the exploitation of this yearly “Hammerhead Season” around Bimini.  It was decided that research should be the priority surrounding this event, rather than commercialization. 

For better or for worse, that all changed in 2012.  An off-island SCUBA operator caught wind of the situation around Bimini and convinced a former-SharkLabber to show him the basics of how-and-when-and-where to attract these incredible sharks.  A year later, after the wide publicization of that proclaimed “one time only” expedition, we now have at least 10 off-island dive operations converging on Bimini to experience this event.

Anyone coming to dive with these sharks around Bimini needs to accept that there is considerable amount of responsibility that comes with your expedition.  You have the ability to do an enormous amount of damage to the reputation of this island and to this endangered species of shark, and hopefully you do not take this lightly.  I’m a firm believer that under the right circumstances and with the proper insight, any species of shark can be safely encountered in the wild.  That being said, I would imagine there is little to no agreement on exactly what those circumstances and insights are.  But simply stated, if you think its acceptable to put yourself, or your guests, or the sharks, at any elevated risk for the sake of photos, videos, or bragging-rights, you are wrong.  If you or your guests get hurt around Bimini because of your own recklessness, the tourism industry on this island could face irreparable damage, as could the public perception of these sharks, and we want people to take that very, very seriously.

Additionally, I’d like to suggest that if you are benefiting in anyway from your expedition to Bimini, that you should make a point to patronize some of the local businesses while you’re here so that the island benefits from your trip as well.  Go to the local bars at night, take some meals at local restaurants, take a tour of the SharkLab, or whatever else you think is fitting.  If you’re looking for a marina to tie up in, please consider Bimini Sands Resort & Marina, the Bimini Big Game Club, Seacrest Hotel & Marina, Bimini Blue Water Resort, Weech’s Bimini Docks, or Brown’s Marina.  All of these marinas have supported local conservation measures and should be rewarded for doing so.

If, for some reason, you’re not willing to spend money on the island, then contribute in some other way.  Help maintain the moorings at the local dive sites, do a beach clean-up with your crew and guests, join and help publicize the Bimini Marine Protected Area Campaign, or something else worthwhile.

We don’t need, or want, this amazing event around Bimini to turn into a circus of competing egos.  There is no need to further misrepresent the history of this situation, nor is there any reason that the operators involved can’t coordinate and cooperate in a professional manner, all without interfering with ongoing research. 

If you are seeing this message, I’d ask that you help distribute it to anyone else you know that is participating in these Great Hammerhead expeditions .  We expect your cooperation in ensuring the safety of every person and animal involved in these excursions, and also expect your help in maintaining a professional atmosphere around the island with proper diving etiquette employed.  The Bimini Tourism Advisory Board is currently discussing this issue, and will soon put forth a set of guidelines to help ensure that Bimini’s ‘Hammerhead Season’ is managed appropriately, helping to assure that people have fun during their visit while being solicitous towards the animals and the people on this island.

As Bimini emerges as the regional “Hammerhead Headquarters,” we all need to do what is necessary to make sure your excursion not only benefits you and your guests, but also the sharks and the island of Bimini.

Thank you for your time, and please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or comments.

Regards,

Grant Johnson
Vice-Chairman, Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB)
Activities Director, Bimini Sands Resort & Marina (2007 – Present)
Manager, Bimini Biological Field Station –SharkLab (2001-2007)
South Bimini, Bahamas

More info:
Bimini Marine Protected Area Campaign - facebook.com/Bimini.Marine.Protected.Area
Bimini Blue Coalition - facebook.com/BiminiBlueCoalition


Note: We happen to agree with this statement and will support any and all efforts to help promote 'sustainable shark tourism' on this unique and fragile island.

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at sharkcrew@gmail.com.

1 comment:

Samantha Muir said...

I agree - and this post was the reason we dived with you on Neal Watson's boat. We had a great experience with the local founders of this amazing experience - thank you. Sam and Mike from UK