Brendon Sing grew up in South Africa, became the youngest dive instructor in Asia at 18, and an instructor trainer at 25. Apart from being passionate about diving, he lives and breathes saving sharks, and is single-handedly funding his own Shark Guardian education and awareness programme. He talks to Mallika Naguran.
Koh Lanta, Thailand. 9 May 2011. When did you start promoting shark awareness, and why the interest?
I became fascinated with sharks from an early age while living in South Africa. When I went on trips to the local aquariums I would spend 99% of the time looking at sharks. I started scuba diving when I was 17 years old and still in high school, which allowed me to get even closer to them. Naturally in university I started to study sharks and get involved with many field projects such as shark tagging, personal identifications, migration patterns and behavior study.
Unlike what most people know about sharks from movies like "JAWS", I learnt the truth about sharks, about their roles they play in the eco-system, their beautiful nature and so much more. I also learnt that shark species all over the world are on a rapid decline, sharks are in grave danger. They are being exploited for their fins and natural resources. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year. From 2000 to 2007 up to 2 million tons of shark fin (equivalent to 6.5 747 jumbos) came though Asian trade alone.
What are the recent shark population trends?
One of the problems we face in encouraging governments around the world to adopt stronger protection laws for shark finning/fishing is that actual data is hard to come by. When sharks are caught very little data is collected (species, male vs. female, size, depth caught, GPS co-ordinates etc). They are usually just caught, fins removed then the body discarded overboard.
Of the 20 nations responsible for shark finning, 13 (65%) provide no species breakdown regardless of agreements made. A study of shark populations by the World Conservation Union concluded that 111 species are under serious threat, with 20 classified as critically endangered, 25 classified as endangered and 66 classified as vulnerable. Many more are likely to be seriously threatened, but not enough data exists.
Are sharks misunderstood?
That’s a HUGE understatement! Even before the movie "JAWS" sharks were already being depicted as the 'enemy of man', 'a danger to all living things' by the media. For 40 years there was no other creature that terrified people as much. Only in the last decade have we seen more educational and factual programs about sharks, but that element of fear is still around.
Why are sharks important?
The earliest sharks existed over 400 million years ago. They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and have not changed much in the last 200 million years; they are an ancient wonder. As the apex predator of the worlds' oceans they are a natural barometer for oceans’ health and help maintain a balanced eco-system. They remove the weak, injured, dying or dead creatures in the ocean and in some areas now with depleted populations there have been population explosions of seals, smaller shark species and jelly fish. This is having damaging effects on reefs and fisheries.
Can you describe shark fishing methods used?
The most damaging is long lining or long line fishing. A long line can reach up to 90km in length with thousands of baited hooks on it. Sharks get entangled in the line, but what is also destructive is that often many other marine species get caught too: turtles, dolphins and various pelagic fish. Additionally other species caught on the line attract even more fish, adding to the casualties.
What can people do to protect sharks?
Get involved! Don’t just rely on governments and organizations. You need to actively participate. Also encourage friends and family not to eat shark fin soup. As well as killing sharks, one survey estimated up to 1400 microgram of poisonous methyl mercury/kg of blue shark steak. This is 60 times more than a 70 kg human should consume per day. Also methyl mercury can pass easily between a mother and her unborn child, as well as the blood-brain barrier.
Brendon Sing urges kids not to fear but love sharks
You can also sign petitions that help organisations reach out to governments to draft stronger shark protection laws. Visit www.sharkguardian.org and follow the links. As well, create your own presentations and projects to promote shark conservation at your work, schools, clubs and so on. Contact Shark Guardian for examples. And don’t forget to write letters to hotels, restaurants, wedding and function organisers and airlines that serve shark fin soup. Visit our site for templates.
How and where do you get your message across?
Apart from the Shark Guardian web site we conduct educational workshops and seminars to dive centers and resorts, international schools and local communities. Our Shark Guardian Presentation has been introduced in South Africa, European countries, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and soon Brunei. Future projects will include other Asian nations as this is where the main demand for shark products comes from. We focus mainly on schools to educate our future generations.
How is Shark Guardian funded?
Shark Guardian is a non-profit organisation. Funding comes mostly from donations, Shark Guardian t-shirt sales and invitations to events and conferences. If you want to donate, look on Facebook, visit our website, come to our presentations, sign up for Shark Guardian courses (coming soon) and buy your own Shark Guardian t-shirts for your friends and family. It all helps!
What are your plans for the future?
Next week I will be presenting to International schools in Bangkok and in June Shark Guardian will for the first time be presented to international schools in Brunei. This will be followed by another presentation on Marine biodiversity at the National Environment Conference (http://www.asiaincforum.com). We will be launching our unique shark courses and materials, including online certifications that include general shark information plus several additional courses on specific shark species. We are also gaining contacts in other international schools in Singapore, Indonesia and China.
How many shark species have you dived with?
Sharks are mild, like this leopard shark. Brendon gets close to see it smile.
I’ve been very lucky to spend time with some beautiful and fascinating sharks such as Great Whites, Bull sharks, Tiger sharks, Whale sharks, Grey Nurse sharks, Blacktip sharks and Zebra sharks. In Mozambique I’ve seen Hammerhead and Silvertip sharks, and in Asia I have seen reef sharks like Black Tip and White Tip sharks, Grey Reef sharks, Nurse sharks and Bamboo sharks. A couple of years ago I saw a Thresher shark in Indonesia.
But I’d really like to dive and see an ancient deep water Gill shark around 100-120m underwater. That would be amazing!
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org; info AT sharkguardian DOT org
Please donate to keep Shark Guardian going in its fantastic job! Buy t-shirts for your friends too.
Photos courtesy Liz Ward/Shark Guardian
Shark declines at 2009
• 90-95% decline in hammerhead sharks in the NW Atlantic since 1988
• 80% decline in thresher sharks in the NW Atlantic since 1988
• 79% decline in great white sharks in the NW Atlantic since 1988
• 65% decline in tiger sharks in the NW Atlantic since 1986
• 60% decline in blue sharks in the NW Atlantic since 1988
• 99% decline in oceanic white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1950s
• 90% decline in oceanic silky sharks in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1950s
• 60% decline in relative abundance of all sharks
(Source: World Conservation Union, 2009. Visit: www.iucn.org)