Today, in No Duh News

Finally! The NZ Herald is starting to catch up to what conservationists, divers, surfers, and other ocean aficionados have known for a long time: sharks are not interested in humans.

Fancy that!

Lots of credit to the NZ Herald though, because they often get a stern correction from people when they (usually) misrepresent sharks as being dangerous and a threat to humans. That’s not to downplay the injuries that people can sustain when an incident occurs, but the fact that the incidents are so rare in the first place – considering how often people are in the water, sharing the same areas as sharks – is a pretty good indication of how much we aren’t a part of their diet.

And right on, Christopher Neff! I look forward to reading your thesis. Please send it to me, kthanx.

-Diverkat

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It’s been a while!

Where have you been?! - Photography by Diverkat

And for good reasons – so many new things, so much news, and loads of things going on, things to do, and things to celebrate!

Firstly, I’m really excited to be able to say that I’ve been made one of the trustees of the White Shark Conservation Trust.  I’m stoked to be working with Bruce and David, and I foresee lots of fun things in the future in that respect.  Both of them are brilliant, and the balance of personalities between the three of us is different enough to really create a dynamic group, and I hope that we can continue to grow the Trust in a way that expands our influence and our reputation in a positive way, for the benefit of our cartilaginous friends.

Second on the list, I’ve picked up studying again – I’m doing part-time study at the University of Auckland for (surprise) Marine Biology/Ecology and Conservation.  So yay!  Loads of work on though, but it’s all very interesting.  I’m halfway through week 3, and it’s pretty full on, but really great to be working my brain again.

As predicted, the diving work with Global Dive over the summer has taken up loads of time, but not without some fruits of the labour; some excellent photos taken by yours truly and good friend and fellow instructor Will Fox below.

More plugging for Sustainable Coastlines – these guys have been busy!  The weekend of 2 – 4 April 2011 is the Great Coromandel Coastal Clean-up, and if that one doesn’t suit you geographically or temporally, then there’s always the North Shore Coastal Clean-up, which is on 15 – 16 April 2011.  I am planning on attending the Saturday, come along and play if you can!

Also, as a trustee of the White Shark Conservation Trust, I will continue to shamelessly plug the events that we hold in the future.  Due to the tragedies that have befallen Christchurch and Japan, we feel that it is not appropriate to be holding any fundraisers for the foreseeable future; however raising awareness and promoting education are still ongoing projects, and I will continue to work on those when I am not studying.

One more thing that I want to mention, because conservation doesn’t have to just be in the ocean – anyone in the Auckland area who is interested in learning a bit about the reforestation/reintegration efforts being done on the islands in the Hauraki Gulf should try their hand at doing some volunteer work on Motuihe Island. Every other Sunday or so they have volunteer days where you can catch a ferry from Auckland to Motuihe, and do some work with reforestation, collecting seeds for growing seedlings, work in the nurseries, take a hike around the island, or whatever needs doing – the project is funded by sponsors of the Motuihe Trust and the Department of Conservation, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for one to learn more about native flora and fauna as well as the methods they are using to restore the endemic species.

And now, photos!

My favourite photo I've taken, ever. - Photography by Diverkat

Coming over the ridge - Photography by Will Fox

Spiny Sea Urchin - Photography by Diverkat

A close up of Scorpionfish, Scorpaena cardinalis (Grandfather hapuku) - Photography by Diverkat

Updates and Opportunities

Hi everyone,

With the lengthening days, as always, there’s a shortage of time – things are getting busy in the upcoming summer months!  I just want to take this opportunity to plug a few things that are happening and if you’re interested, please come along and offer a helping hand!

First things first, on this upcoming Sunday, 14 November 2010 at 9:00am, the White Shark Conservation Trust’s Mystery Ride, a charity motorbike ride being held on the North Shore.  For more details, visit the link posted.  Yours truly will be there as well, so come stop by and say hello, offer some support or make a donation!   If you have a bike and would like to join in on the ride, it costs $20 to register.  Please contact Bruce Goorney at the link posted above.  All proceeds will be going to the White Shark Conservation Trust, in support of conserving and protecting the white shark, educating the public about the white shark, and of course spreading the love among like-minded people.

Secondly, I’d like to plug Sustainable Coastlines, a non-profit organisation whose founders I had the opportunity to meet recently.  Sustainable Coastlines works to support communities in keeping their coastal environments clean, develop sustainable environmental practices and support coastal cleanup efforts to positively impact the environment, raise awareness and of course leave the coasts a little cleaner than they were when we found them.  Sustainable Coastlines is participating in the Love Your Coast event, which is a series of coastal cleanups that are happening across New Zealand.  On Monday, 6 December 2010, a cleanup is scheduled for Rangitoto Island.  Other cleanups are scheduled throughout the rest of that week in Wellington, Christchurch, and Te Tai o Poutini (West Coast).  Visit the posted links for more details.  I highly recommend checking out Sustainable Coastlines, as they are a pretty large, well organised outfit and they offer a lot of opportunities for getting involved, especially anyone who is concerned for environmental welfare.

November is looking to be an incredibly busy month, with several more dive courses starting and therefore a lot more work to do, but I hope to post again soon with some rather exciting news – watch this space.

-Diverkat

Update on Sharkilage: A Small Victory (so far)

A few weeks ago, I wrote an open letter to Brian and Dave Blanchard of Good Health and posted it here, along with various links to research defending the reasons behind why using shark products is an unsustainable endeavour.

I am thrilled to say that Brian Blanchard has responded to my emails, as well as responding to other emails that were sent from many of you, so I humbly thank you for putting forth the effort.  I’m so glad to see that we can band together and make a difference – I know that sounds ridiculously cliche, but I am genuinely so stoked to see changes brought about by our efforts.

The communication between us was extensive, but I will sum it up here:

Brian was quick to respond to my emails, and I’m glad to say that he had some pretty decent news to share.  Sharkilage is still present on Good Health’s website, and they are still selling it in order to exhaust their current stock, but they no longer source their  chondroitin from sharks – now the chondroitin they use in their joint care formulas are derived from bovine sources, and as they are farmed animals, are certainly more sustainable.  My arguments about lauding the value of shark fin have also encouraged them to change the wording of the Sharkilage page, so they are no longer indirectly showing support for an unsustainable practice.  Small victory, indeed.

Brian shared with me the sources from which they gather their shark liver oil, or squalene, and the company they use (SeaDragon Marine Oils Ltd).  The company mainly targets deep water shark species for meat used in fish and chip shops (FYI – ‘dogfish’ and ‘lemonfish’ on fish and chip shop menus are actually shark meat), and they had sent him a list of the species they target, which Brian then passed onto me.  I have checked each these species with the IUCN Red List, and according to the list, most of them are under the “LC” category – least concern.  This would seem like a good thing, and it is on the surface, but the problem is that there is no data listed for these species regarding population density, fecundity, prevalence, location, breeding habits/grounds, ecology, et cetera.  There were a few (Leafscale Gulper, Seal Shark and the Portuguese Dogfish) which were listed under “vulnerable” or “near threatened” status, which is a greater concern that I will be bringing up with SeaDragon when I have a chance to sit down and write them a letter.

We also discussed the possibility of contaminants, and Brian assured me that both Good Health and SeaDragon adhere to the TGA guidelines, which state that 1.0mg/kg (of body weight) of mercury is considered an acceptable level; however that does not specify for methyl mercury, which is 1.0 microgram/kg (1,000 times less), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (USA).  More information on this can be found here.  As previously stated, methyl mercury is much more dangerous, and inorganic mercury is stored as methyl mercury in organisms, so these TGA guidelines sound dubious to me.  According to this study and this one (which also refers to other studies, which I haven’t linked because I am running out of time), the people most at risk for mercury poisoning/defects are unborn children.

I am trying to find more information on TGA guidelines and the resources they have used to determine ‘safe’ levels of mercury and methyl mercury, but I am having a little bit of trouble there – I would wager, however, that as most of us are human, the ‘safe’ levels determined by one research body would hardly differ extensively from those found by another.  The first study listed in the previous sentence does reference a New Zealand study, but I haven’t located it online.

On top of this, Brian has expressed interest in finding other sources of squalene, from plant-derived, sustainable New Zealand companies, if possible.  I have told Brian that I would do my best to find any NZ companies that do source squalene using sustainable methods, and so again, I’m asking for your help my friends – do you know of any health companies, or corporations that could possibly help in this instance?  Squalene can be sourced from olives, rice bran oil, amaranth seeds, and other plants.  If you have any information on this, please share it in the comments.

And seriously, everyone – thanks for ALL you have done.  Although we are digging with teaspoons, we are still making changes.  This outcome is evidence of that.

-Diverkat

Sharkilage – an unsustainable product from a “sustainable” business

Today, it was brought to my attention by Bruce Goorney of the White Shark Conservation Trust that Good Health, a New Zealand owned and based natural supplement/naturopathy company sell two shark-based ingredient products: Sharkilage and Squalene.  Sharkilage is, as you can guess from the hybridised name, shark cartilage.  The description on the website states “Shark fin has been highly prized by some cultures for many years.”  Which is true, but it was not really prized for its health benefits – shark fin soup is mainly prized for its status-giving properties.  Shark fin soup is a sign of affluence, holds no nutritional value, has no flavour, and most health benefits that are quoted (many claim it has cancer-fighting properties) have been shown to be insignificant.

Chondroitin is a naturally occurring glycosaminoglycan, or GAG, a large molecule that is essential in building connective tissues in the body. Chondroitin sulfate, while administered with glucosamine, has been shown in some studies to slow (but not prevent or reverse) the degeneration of joint cartilage in humans – however whether or not there is any pain relief is still contested.  Chondroitin is found naturally in all sorts of intra-skeletal animals (including humans) and can be sourced from bovine cartilage as well as shark cartilage, or synthetically produced – therefore there is no need to obtain it from shark cartilage.

Shark liver oil benefits are less hocum; claims that shark liver oil has cancer-fighting abilities have undergone much testing and there may be some benefit to using the active organic compound, squalene.  However it is important to note that squalene can be derived from plant sources as well, such as olives or wheat germ, therefore there is no need to source squalene from shark liver.

Good Health’s environmental policy claims they “employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.” As I have mentioned in previous posts, shark fishing/finning is not an environmentally sustainable practice.  Low fecundity rates coupled with slow rates of maturation means that sharks take longer to have offspring, and have fewer – so replenishing their populations takes a much longer time than say, tuna, who mature in 4-6 years and have numerous offspring.  The white shark, for example, takes about 15 years to reach sexual maturity, gestation is 11 months, and as intrauterine cannibalism is a common phenomenon in white sharks, only a few pups are birthed.  There is no doubt that we are fishing sharks at a much faster rate than they can replace their populations, which is the very definition of un-sustainability.

I have been living in New Zealand for over 3 years now, and I have made it my home.  I consider myself, for all intents and purposes, a Kiwi.  I want to support kiwi-owned businesses and purchase kiwi-made or kiwi-grown products, and I do.  But this company demonstrates exactly the problem I’ve noticed in this great country: with the undeserved “green reputation” that New Zealand seems to have overseas, there is a great margin of disconnect with individual kiwis, and kiwi-owned businesses alike.  Good Health, for example, spout the sustainability of their products, yet they indirectly promote one of the most unsustainable fishing practices in the world.  This cognitive dissonance is not rare, I’ve seen it in the New Zealand government’s behaviour at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last year as well, I see it in the lack of recycling facilities and campaigns at home, and I see it every time I pick up rubbish off the side of the road or a beach.  There is a trend here in NZ, a lack of foresight when it comes to environmental sustainability – and that needs to change.  But that I think is for another post, and begins at an individual level as I’ve said before.

I want to make this clear: I do not for a moment think that the people at Good Health are promoting the use and sale of shark products out of malice; I think there is simply a lack of knowledge about shark products, how they are sourced, and how they impact the environment.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the best way to combat this is through education. I cannot state that enough.

Therefore, in the light of educating those who may not be aware of the damaging effects that come from sourcing certain ingredients, I have written a letter – one that I am posting below, and sending on to salesnz@goodhealth.co.nz.  I encourage you to do the same, my friends, and by all means use my letter if you want, or write your own.  I’d love to hear whether or not anyone gets a response – and I will certainly let you know if I get one.

-Diverkat

_______________________________________________

Dear Messrs Dave and Brian Blanchard,

As a fellow New Zealander who proudly supports Kiwi businesses, I am shocked and disappointed in the disconnect between your environmental policy and the unsustainability of the main ingredients, shark cartilage (or chondroitin) and shark liver oil, in your products Sharkilage and Squalene.

Your environmental policy as stated on your website says:

”Good Health believes every New Zealand business should do its best to preserve New Zealand’s clean, green reputation and we accept our share of responsibility for the environment.

For this reason our endeavours to employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.”

Sharks are slow-growing apex predators, and their reproduction rates are substantially lower than those of other apex predator fish.  Apex predator populations are of vital importance to the health and welfare of marine ecosystems, and they are not fished in sustainable or ethical methods.  An estimated 70 – 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, and shark populations have been estimated to have declined by nearly 90% in the past three decades.

Shark finning itself is an unethical and unregulated practice – shark meat is often laden with high mercury levels (like other slow-growing marine animals), and holds little market value.  The most common finning method is to land the shark onto the boat, cut off all of its fins, and toss the carcass back into the water.  This does not necessarily kill the shark.  The shark can take up to five days to die by either starvation or asphyxiation (as it cannot swim to pass oxygenated water through its gills).  Other times the shark can be eaten alive by other sharks.  The whole process is extremely wasteful and very inhumane.

Encouraging shark fishing/finning through the promotion and sale of shark cartilage and shark liver oil is irresponsible business practice at best, and disingenuous to your environmental policy.  I encourage you to remove these products from your online store and encourage your suppliers to remove these products from their shelves, and reinstate the integrity of your environmental policy.

Both chondroitin and squalene can be obtained from more sustainable sources – chondroitin can be found in bovine cartilage or synthetically produced, and squalene can be found in olives, wheat germ and other plant sources.  Please consider using more sustainable sources for your products in order to be consistent with your policy.

I will be sharing this information with everyone I know and discourage them from using your products until a change is made.  If you do remove Sharkilage and Squalene from your line of products, I will happily and proudly support your Kiwi business once again.

Shark talk… and some Diving!

Well, last night’s WSCT presentation at Diveshack was a great success – we raised $281.00 in donations, so a big THANK YOU is in order to the club members, and especially to Aaron and Hayden, Diveshack’s Brains and Brawn rulers extraordinaire.  That money will be going toward purchasing tracking tags for DoC’s white shark research, so once again, thank you ALL for your generosity – and for letting Bruce and I rave on and on about sharks!  Definitely one of my favourite things to to.

And also, our lovely Dive Mistress is organising day dives out to the Poor Knights on Saturday, 26 June and Sunday, 27 June with our dear friends Noel and Jo from Yukon Charters.  Contact Dive Mistress at dive.mistress.nz@gmail.com for details if you’re available, and let her know if you can come diving with us!!!

White Shark Conservation Trust Presentation Tonight!

Hello all!

This is extremely last minute, but tonight, Bruce Goorney, trustee of the White Shark Conservation Trust, is doing a presentation on the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and what the Trust is doing in terms of conservation, research and fundraising.  The talk is happening at Diveshack, at 349 Dominion Road, Mt Eden, at 7pm.  Come along and meet other divers, find out what the WSCT is getting up to, and learn about what you can do to help us raise awareness about the plight of sharks.  Hope to see you all there!

I am a nice shark. Not a mindless eating machine. (copyright Disney)

-Diverkat