Oceans of Opportunity

facing fears, and moving forward

August is an exciting time for environmentalists and ocean enthusiasts. here in the Northern Hemisphere, the warm weather draws us outside to play and find new and exciting interactions with the world around us.

It is also the annual home to the Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’, where for better or worse, both sides of the shark saga continue; man-eating monster and civil co-resident of Planet Earth, both, are presented to the masses.

It is encouraging to see the media take a greater interest in all things ocean related with some greater frequency these days. It many respects, they have to, as our global environmental crisis certainly does not stop at the beach. In fact, this may be where it just begins.

The emphasis on sharks always draws a crowd, and with them, increased ratings. Shark attacks are ‘scary’, and seeing monster 20 foot whites breach demands a healthy respect and appreciation for the unknown depths of the seas.

One type of story seems to becoming more popular however, that is attack victims sharing their story – not in a horrific way, but in a manner where they have found a certain respect for these animals and appreciate our co-existence.

It is not just attack victims that are facing fears. Shark tourism, both by diving, and from a boat, are taking off. They critical level of communication that needs to be embraced by operators is not the ‘thrill’ of the activity, but appreciating the encounter and coming to terms with the fact that this animal is our match.

Humans may be more intelligent, and have more developed social structures, but the shark has evolved for millions of years to near perfection in the ocean environment. We must remember that we are visitors, for now, and every step humans take towards increased use of ocean resources, including occupying the space itself with any number of structures, we are imposing a human ideal on the sharks’ world.

That being said, there will always be perceived conflict. To better appreciate the balance between man and this ‘monster’, the best thing anyone can do is get out there and experience sharks firsthand.

I’ve run an annual shark diving trip in Rhode Island for a few years now. The intent has been to promote and encourage the interaction of humans and sharks to students and educators. We don’t set out for a thrill, or to face fears per se. We set out to say hello and find a heightened appreciation for these beautiful animals. It is this perspective that keeps the wheels turning in our younger generation, and will contribute to improved measures to protect these animals, and other ocean resources.

For those of us who are out there experiencing these marvels routinely…consider how fortunate we are. Take it a step further, and share the experience with a friend. There is only so much top-down effort that can be made. As stewards, we can all do our part ‘bottom-up’ and see real results in an instant.

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