Friday, June 14, 2019

Are you an Activist or a Slacktivist?

InstagramWhat makes a person a real Shark/Ocean Activist/Conservationist? Is it commenting on social media? Is it freediving with a shark, touching it to show how "friendly" these animals are, is it calling anyone who is fishing for sharks names? If you're only doing the things avobe, are you an Activist or a Slacktivist?

Most exchanges on social media happen in an "echo chamber"! If you are commenting on a post in a shark related group, you are not talking to anyone who is not already "saved" and not the ones killing sharks? Do you think that calling out fishermen in those forums is going to change something? You may feel good about other people agreeeing with you and think you really achieved something by telling off a person who in all likelyhood will never even see your comment, but did that really make a difference? Did you really change someones mind?

Real activism involves hard work, doesn't usually yield immediate results and most of the time happens far away from the eyes of the social media conservation groups. Take the example of the lady who keeps freediving with Great White Sharks to "proof" that these animals are harmless and to raise "awareness". How many people, outside of her adoring fans will actually look at those pictures and think the sharks are harmless? Most who don't already love sharks will think "this lady is crazy" or something similar. Besides, is raising awareness really helping to save sharks?

Is this conservation?
Most fishermen don't kill sharks because they hate them or are afraid of them. They kill them for food or money. If we want fishermen to stop fishing for sharks, we have to find alternative ways for them to make a living and feed their families. We always hear that a live shark is worth many times more than a dead one, but WHO is making more money from it? Is it a tourist operation, or do the fishermen themselves profit from the live sharks as well?

There are operations that have successfully managed to get the fishermen involved in saving the sharks. One example is what Beqa Adventure Divers did. They work with the fishing village who is the traditional owner of a reef and in exchange for a levy that is paid by their divers and hiring some of their fishermen to work for the dive operation, they created a national marine park in Fiji. They continue their conservation work with the Myfijishark adoption project. Their mission is the protection and conservation of all of Fiji's shark species and their natural habitats through ecotourism, research, advocacy and education. They also support and cooperate with local communities.

How many of you have seen their video "Celebration"? How many of you are aware of what they are doing? Do you think they have a lesser impact on saving sharks than someone getting 12 million views of a video with them touching sharks?

Shark Diver started the Shark Free Marinas initiative, a program for marinas to pledge that they will not allow their tenants to bring back a shark to their marina.

We also work with shark fishing tournaments to get them to have a catch and release division, instead of catch and kill. This has actually lead to a lot of backlash on social media. We've been accused of consorting with the enemy, especially after they started doing catch, tag and release.  The scientists involved with it have been accused of glorifying those tournaments. People tell me that catch and release is not OK, because of post release mortality. I agree that there is a substantial post release mortality, especially with sharks like the Hammerheads, but catch and release is still a heck of a lot better than an all kill tournament. The fact that we know about the higher post release mortality for Hammerheads is due in part to the catch, tag and release program. After being told that Hammerheads are more likely to die after being released, a bunch of fishermen now cut the lines when they realize they have a Hammerhead on the line and don't fight it to exhaustion.

So here is my question to you, are you an Activist or a Slacktivist? Tell us what you do to help save the sharks and their habitat and you might even win a free shark trip. Check out Ocean Championships for more info on how doing some real conservation work gives you a chance to win a free shark trip.

Let's do something to save our sharks!

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

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