International Cleanup Day Results – Job Well Done!

Recycled 2009 Banner - we practise what we preach!

Once again, Project AWARE‘s International Cleanup Day was a smashing success! This past Saturday, 25 September 2010 we tackled Mission Bay Beach’s shores for our beach and underwater cleanup.  Volunteers, divers and non-divers alike, showed up to help us collect about 12 kilograms of rubbish from the beach and the ocean.  And again, the most numerous bits of trash left behind were cigarette butts and drink bottle caps/lids.  Food wrappers and containers were the next most prevalent, indicating that in the more populous areas, individuals littering is the biggest issue we need to tackle – as well as getting food shops and food suppliers to use more biodegradable materials when packaging food and/or handing out utensils.

And once again, more than half of the volume we picked up was recyclable material.

Bearing that in mind, my suggestion for trying to curb this behaviour?  Why, yes, as always, education! If we tirelessly continue to educate ourselves, our kids, our friends, loved ones, colleagues, et cetera about the need to dispose of/recycle our trash responsibly, we can help stop thousands (yes, thousands) of tonnes of garbage from polluting our seas.  Last year on International Cleanup Day 2009, 220,000 kgs of debris were removed from the ocean alone (see Project AWARE’s global data here).  This was what was collected in one day.  Also, getting involved in being part of the solution – as our wonderful volunteers from NIWA, Global Dive, the White Shark Conservation Trust and my own dear (unaffiliated) friends did – helps raise awareness among the general public too, and of course reminds us to be responsible with disposing of our own rubbish.

Another bright moment from Saturday, other than the intermittent sun showing its face once in a while, was the chance to meet with Sam, Camden and Simon from Sustainable Coastlines, a charity organisation based in Tirau, Waikato.  Sustainable Coastlines takes a holistic approach to developing solutions for keeping our coasts clean and working with communities and individuals to implement solutions throughout New Zealand.  I am hoping to meet with these guys again soon – I’m looking forward to working with them toward a common goal, and gain some insight into what projects they are planning – and see if I can help.

Some photos from the day are below.   Thanks again to all of you who helped out, I am so grateful for the support shown and I am proud of the efforts you all put forth!  And of course, a big thank you to Global Dive for sponsoring the materials and the barbecue on the day!


Divers getting kitted up for the underwater search

Bruce and Zoe sweep the west end of the beach

Francois and Juliet team up

Harry is all smiles - before he realised he'd be in 3m of water!

Jonas getting ready for the dive

Andreas, Alex and Kate on land duty


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.


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  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.



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 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)


Post-Kilimanjaro (I’m so punny)

Mt Kilimanjaro, Northern View

It has been a long time since I’ve made time to post, and the flurry of pre-trip, last minute organisation (i.e. pandemonium), holidays and then the trip itself… well, the days slip by and things fall by the wayside.  Coming back, I found work in a state of organised chaos; both Global Dive – due to peak season – and the office, due to my boss being slightly disorganised.  So those are my pithy excuses, and hopefully I won’t have to make any more for a while.

What does one say after embarking on a round the world trip, seeing and doing things that are eye-opening (at the very least) and life-changing?  As a person who rarely shuts her gob, I have a hard time finding words to describe accurately exactly what the trip did for me, and hopefully, did for others.  This comes as a surprise.  I’m never without something to say.

Oddly enough, I have found myself recoiling from social interactions since returning from this epic journey – so much experience was crammed into four short weeks and I still feel – even after nearly 4 1/2 months of being back – that I haven’t fully processed all of it.  But I’ll do my best to put it into words.

Firstly, I think the most accurate way to describe how I felt – and feel – is to say that Africa changed me, in ways unexpected.  Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro changed me, in ways I needed to change.  Forcing yourself to continue climbing when all you want to do is lie down, vomit, sleep, die, whatever… a true test of tenacity – or stubbornness.  I can say with conviction that climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the hardest things through which I’ve ever willingly put myself.  But it was worth it. Every tear, every blister, every dry retch, every sore and bruised muscle, ligament, joint… all of it, I would do it again.  Now that I’ve forgotten how awful I felt after summiting.

The other hardest thing I’ve ever chosen to do was visit the slums, the health clinic, and the various orphanages around Nairobi.  Working and playing with the children at the orphanages humbled me, and drew stark contrast between my western, consumer-driven lifestyle, and their struggle for existence – this is not a comfortable feeling, being so far removed from my own misperceptions of reality – i.e., life in western culture – and thrust firmly into a place where everyday life really is a struggle.

While those experiences with the children created a space in my heart for those who suffer, I came back and found I had less sympathy for those who ‘struggle’ in western countries – a particular restaurant is shut, or their hot water heater gets shut off temporarily, or they have to walk around the homeless and destitute people begging for money on the streets… These are not struggles to me, these are minor things.  Annoyances which no longer register as such to me, due to being smacked in the face by true troubles, but I must remind myself that not everyone has been as fortunate in seeing things from a different light – and what I may perceive as nothing may indeed be a true struggle for someone else.   So it has been difficult for me to be more understanding with people back at home, and I need to work on that because I shouldn’t judge someone else’s perceptions under the same criteria as my own.

Unaware of the amount of tears I was about to shed on this day…

So I suppose that’s some food for thought for the time being.  I’ll be putting up another post about shark stuff very soon, because there are some very exciting happenings in that realm as well!


Dolphins for dinner… Not for me, thanks.

Water isn't supposed to be red.

Water isn't supposed to be red.

Yesterday, 1 September 2009, marked the first day of drive dolphin hunting in Taiji, in which thousands of dolphins will be killed for their meat, and a select few will be sold for an outrageous price and chosen to live in captivity in various marine parks.  Dolphin meat has high levels of mercury and methyl mercury, and is not considered fit for human consumption; but it is being sold for just that all the same.  A documentary called The Cove was recently released, exposing the inhumane methods of the Taiji fishermen and those who support them, who are involved in this lucritive business.  The documentary gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘investigative journalism’ and has won several film festival awards.  I highly recommend seeing it if you can.

The Cove Team

The team that uncovered the dark side of Taiji, using spy tactics and camouflaged recording equipment.

The cove at Taiji is well protected from prying eyes; tarps, barbed wire, “KEEP OUT” signs and tight security make it nearly impossible for anyone to get in.  The team that infiltrated the cove did so at great personal risk, and the lucrative business they uncovered was terrifying.

Here is a list of facts about the dolphin drive hunt, which is supported by  the international dolphinarium industry – it’s the easiest way for them to obtain ‘show-worthy’ dolphins for commercial use and entertainment, such as captive dolphin shows and “Swim with Dolphins” programs offered in many tourist venues throughout Japan and some other countries.

Again, this all comes down to money – those who are in need of it, like the local fishermen who depend on the dolphin drive for their livelihoods, and those who perpetuate the wrongdoings by using their money to get what they want, at great cost to the environment, to the health and well-being of wild creatures, and to the health and well-being of the humans who are unknowingly consuming dangerous toxins contained in their food.  Personally, I don’t think we can fault the locals who are depending on that income to survive.  But the locals are not hauling in the riches; the people controlling the operations are.  Those who are willing to pay top dollar to pillage the oceans for a few ‘pretty’ animals and exploit them for the entertainment of others are the driving force behind this disgusting practice.

There are simple things we can do.  If you are in New Zealand, you can copy and paste the following letter into an email to the Japanese Embassy, at  If you are not in NZ, you can locate your local Japanese embassy using a google search – the embassies all have their contact information available online.


Dear Mr Toshihiro Takahashi,
I am writing to you to ensure you are aware that today (September 1, 2009) the waters and coves around Japan will once again run red with the blood of dolphins to fuel the marine park industry. After the few ‘show-worthy’ dolphins are captured, the hundreds, even thousands of dolphins not sentenced to a life of confinement will be slaughtered, and their poisonous meat sold to people and put into children’s school lunch programs.  
 The dolphins are killed in a secluded cove three hours south of Osaka.  The slaughter is hidden from public view with tarps and nets.  Access is blocked by steel gates, barbed wire, razor ribbon and guards.  The act is nothing short of barbaric, and the very fact that those involved go to great lengths to hide the slaughter from everyone shows that they know its barbaric and would be strongly opposed, not only by the rest of the world, but also by the Japanese people.

Japan officials and fishermen will then endanger their own people by selling this toxic dolphin meat to unsuspecting consumers.

“The dolphin drive brings dishonour to Japan and the world is watching.” 


You can help.  Please help spread the word back to your contacts in Japan that this is not acceptable. 

Please help save these beautiful creatures and stop the few greedy people that are bringing dishonour to your name and country.


Thanks for reading.  There are a few websites you can visit to get more information on dolphin drive hunts and conservation:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it another thousand times: Best thing we can do is educate ourselves, and educate others.