Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sea Shepherd Fiji's Shark Conservation Boondoggle?

South Pacific vacation idylls with donor money? Yup!
First of all an indulgence and a short education of the word, "Boondoggle."

Boondoggle - work of little or no value done merely to look busy waste, wastefulness, dissipation - useless or profitless activity; using or expending or consuming thoughtlessly or carelessly; "if the effort brings no conservation gain it is a waste"; "mindless dissipation of  donor resources."

Which brings us to the topic du jour, Sea Shepherds South Pacific Shark Conservation Campaign.

You know the one. It was preceded by several breathless press releases and this over-the-top conservation PSA which promised to kick ass and take names and numbers once the Sea Shepherds arrived in the South Pacific.

For the sharks!

This particular PSA was met with the following statement from the Ministry of Defense in Fiji and if you have not read it, read it, it's an eye opener. In short Fiji has several amazing shark conservation programs in place with hardworking folks and a plan to make Fiji a Shark Sanctuary.

These are long term, local grass roots programs, the best of shark conservation in action.

Sadly, like most of Sea Shepherds media outreach the reality on the ground for Operation Requiem could not be more different from their media hype and this post is directed at the Sea Shepherd donor base whose money pays for Sea Shepherd vessel assets to spend months in the South Pacific wandering about from island to island.

Is this how you envisioned your money being spent?

Instead of changing the world for sharks as the propaganda suggests by direct action where members of this elite (ahem) South Pacific team would "gladly trade their lives for sharks," they, in the fine tradition of missionaries the world over, are spending their time spreading the Gospel of St Paul The Conservation Redeemer to islanders, and even commercial long liners.

More on those commercial long liners in a minute.

In Fiji their efforts have been about as helpful as tourists who steal things from World Heritage Sites.

It's great "conservation work" if you can get it and we know of at least a half dozen or so hard working NGO's who at this very moment are saving actual sharks with boots on the ground efforts that could use a three month "vacation" to the South Pacific to "save" sharks.

Unlike Sea Shepherd, these NGO's do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend pumping out simply fantastical cover stories or even have access to floating palaces to causally saunter from island to island with. These NGO's do not seek the mainstream media limelight, their staff do not demand a personality cult for species. They are the real deal vs grandiose "look-at-me-ain't-I-grand" conservation buffoonery at sea.

Once again Sea Shepherd's media vs actual conservation realities stand at stark contrast to each other. No sharks are being saved in this campaign but the weather is nice and the media they are pumping out looks great.

So back to the commercial long liners. In Fiji the proposed Shark Sanctuary is in its final decision process and for anyone in the shark conservation community who has fostered a shark sanctuary you know these final days are finger nail biting times where last minute deals, phone calls, and conversations hopefully lead to thousands of square miles of shark safe zones. A first step in a long and drawn out process.

These are precarious times, and anything can derail these last minute negotiations.

Enter Sea Shepherd and a post on their website from the elite team of Shark Angels who, if you remember, were asked in no uncertain terms to stay out of Fiji in the first place. They ignored that request and instead sat down with a local long liner who had his own anti shark sanctuary propaganda to spill forth.

Until Sea Shepherds Shark Conservation Campaign came along this Fijian long liner had no one willing to regurgitate his propaganda for him:

"Nathan worries the Fijian shark sanctuary proposed won’t be effective – the sharks will simply be taken elsewhere and legitimate operators will be the ones punished. He feels the use of wire traces should be prohibited (and enforced) around the world and it will decrease shark mortality by at least 80%. And he believes the fact none of his peers and the commercial fishing industry were properly consulted will result in its lack of the Shark Sanctuary approval in Fiji - in order to be successful, the legislation needs to consider all constituencies.  Pretty sound reasoning (regardless of whether I agree or not) for someone I had assumed was going to be without a clue."

You read that correctly. It is conservation garbage. It has also been mainlined directly into the propaganda machine that is Sea Shepherd for reasons that no one in the wider shark conservation community understands. It serves no purpose but to derail delicate negotiations in Fiji by a group of wandering shark media interlopers who are masquerading as actual shark conservationists.

Is this how you want your donor money being spent?

There's a choice people have to make. Support organizations that do real work and have real metrics for success when it comes to saving wildlife. Or fall for the hype and glossy PSA's that show action! pathos! and steel jawed animal savers with the wind in their hair, and just the right amount of lip gloss to catch the light.

You quickly find that 99% of the hype is good old fashioned conservation bullshit lead by conservation leaders who inspire their hand selected followers with their own brand of faked media moments for wildlife.

It has to end because the flip side to all this conservation noise is the donation button. It's the button Sea Shepherd hopes you press so they can continue on with their 30 year Boondoggle Machine.

Their machine is a well oiled beast that drops "elite teams" into hot spots around the world to take a few pictures, hype a few videos, and produce more media content next to that donation button.

The choice is ultimate yours and your wallets. Are you donating for changes to wildlife or another reality tv show?

In Fiji the choice is clear. We wish the Sea Shepherds well on their continued voyages and as a helpful hint make sure you use that 50 SPF sunblock. You don't want to start looking like someone from an actual NGO who has just finished planting 30,000 mangrove roots to create a shark nursery.

No, that would just be too horrible to contemplate and frankly nothing media worthy about it at all.

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