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Community outreach efforts are essential to ensuring the sustainability of shark and ray sanctuariesPhoto Credit: Mary O'Malley
Community outreach efforts are essential to ensuring the sustainability of shark and ray sanctuaries. Shark Savers works to educate the community, build a sense of pride in their accomplishments, and engage children as the future caretakers of the sanctuary.
It is vital to teach community members about sharks and why it’s important to protect them and their marine environment. Communities that are engaged with protection take ownership of the sanctuary and make it thrive. Shark Savers wants to ensure that local communities take pride in their sanctuaries and celebrate their successes.
Shark Savers produces and distributes easy-to-understand educational materials such as posters and pamphlets to stakeholders, members of local communities, villages, schools and dive operations, promoting the awarenss and benefits of the sanctuary. Shark Savers also works to engage locals in direct monitoring and protection of their sanctuary using community shark surveys from the SharksCount framework that allows locals to keep track of any changes in local shark abundances or diversity.
Children are the future caretakers of a sanctuary, and we want to ensure that they understand the importance of conserving their marine resources for many generations to come. Our kid-friendly educational materials create excitement and fun around protecting sharks, rays and other marine life. Not only do they educate children about the marine ecosystem, but they encourage a sense of empowerment that they can make a difference.
Historically, a small scale traditional harpoon fishery existed in India for whale sharks along the coast of Gujarat, India, predominantly in the area of Veraval, where fishermen used the shark’s liver oil to waterproof wooden fishing vessels and tools (Rao 1986). In just four days in April 1982, fishermen landed 40 whale sharks, raising concerns about how the removal of so many individuals may impact the population (Rao 1986).
Hunting the whale sharks for their liver oil may have started as early as the mid-1950s and by the early 1990s, traded whale shark products included the liver, fins, cartilage, skin and meat (Hanfee 2001). Prompted by increasing liver oil prices and a new market for shark fins, between 1988 and 1991, a total of 647 sharks were captured, an increase of both the effort and the number of sharks caught of 33% during this time period (Vivekanandan and Zala 1994). Elsewhere in the country, the meat of incidentally caught sharks was salted, dried and used for human consumption (Karbhari and Josekutty 1986). By 1994, whale shark exports from India found markets primarily to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, expanding to other countries such as Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Japan, and Taiwan, among others (Hanfee 2001).
Declining targeted fish stocks in the coastal waters of Gujarat and stricter European standards for exports also enticed fishermen to target whale sharks (Hanfee 2001). Between 1999 and 2000, approximately 600 whale sharks, 37% of which were juveniles, were landed in the region (Hanfee 2001). In 1999, the fishermen were receiving US$ 566-1,100 for a set of four fins, a lucrative product when compared to the skin, cartilage, liver and meat valued at less than US$1.00 per kg (Hanfee 2001). In a market, a single whale shark fin can be priced up to US$57,000 (Clark 2004).
Concerns arose over the unregulated fishing and unmonitored trade of whale sharks, absence of detailed export information and the general vulnerability of whale sharks to overexploitation because of their highly migratory movements and naturally low abundance (Hanfee 2001). Whale sharks exhibit the same characteristics that make them vulnerable to overfishing: large size, late maturity, Small whale sharks, one measuring only 2.0 m, were observed in the area, which may be an important nursery for the species (Hanfee 2001). The economic benefits from the trade of whale shark products had turned a traditional subsistence fishery into a commercial target fishery (Chaudhary et al. 2008). The high prices for whale shark products encouraged locals to partake in unsustainable fishing practices, ignore protection laws, and encouraged the retention of the incidentally captures whale sharks (Chaudhary et al. 2008).
A TRAFFIC report (Hanfee 2001) on the whale shark fishery of India and a documentary called “Shores of Silence – Whale Sharks of India” recording the fishery, served as a call for action in India. In 2001, whale sharks were protected in India under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 but fishermen continued to harvest the whale sharks so the Whale Shark Campaign was developed to increase awareness for the conservation of the species among stakeholders. The campaign was initiated by the Forest Department, Wildlife Trust of India, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and two corporate sponsors. They incorporated a popular religious leader, Shri Morari Bapu, as an ambassador of the cause.
The whale shark got an image overhaul. Bapu related the whale shark to a daughter coming home to give birth, depicted in an original play performed throughout the state. The whale shark, previously referred to as ‘barrel’, a term related to the fishing method used to catch them, was now becoming known as Vhali, meaning ‘loved one’. An inflatable life-sized model of a whale shark made its rounds throughout the target areas, present at the increasing number of campaign events and festivals. Policy makers and stakeholders participated in festivals with painting contests, viewing of underwater footage of the whale sharks in their waters, and popular games redesigned to represent the species.
In 2002, Whale Shark Day was celebrated in Veraval, previously a major whale shark fishing port, and December 9 annual Whale Shark Day, the first day marked in honor of a wild species in India. Between 2002 and 2005, six cities adopted the whale shark as their mascot and fishermen took public pledges to protect the largest fish in the sea and in 2005, a commemorative whale shark postal cover was released. The campaign gained national attention, given the Green Governance Award in 2005, and international interest, recognized at the Whale Shark Conservation Conference in Perth, Australia. The government has increased the effort to conduct scientific studies on whale shark migrations along the coast of India, habitat and feeding patterns, as well as DNA and population analysis.
In 2006, the Gujarat government began compensating fishermen US$575 per net if damaged during the release of a whale shark. Approximately 75 whale sharks have been released since the start of the campaign in 2004. Now whale sharks are the flagship species to develop marine tourism in Gujarat. Indian officials are visiting countries that have whale shark tourism and learning from their experiences to develop a viable tourism model.