Some days ago it was my birthday. It is an event which I look forward to immensely, taking the opportunity to disconnect from the world and to focus on celebrating another trip around the sun with my loved ones. After a few days when I connected my phone back to the device soon blew up with disturbing images and video of a pregnant tiger shark being caught, cut open and having her pups ripped out while a crowd, including small children, stand by and look on. I was first quite upset, and then saddened to see my friends and colleagues from St. Maarten, St. Martin, Anguilla and around the come to grips with not the catching of a species threatened with its imminent extinction but to also watch the disrespect for life we still need to come to grips with here in the Caribbean.
I was upset and saddened at how, in 2019, with all of the information out there on how sharks are so important to our ocean’s ecosystem, that they are not the mindless killers that they were made out to be by the media, that they are one of the most endangered animals on the planet, how can us island people who have such a close connection to the sea not realize that we have now removed one of the most important animals in the oceanic food chain? I then realized that misconceptions are still a major issue regarding how we perceive sharks.
Sharks are essential to the health of our ocean: they are top-level ocean predators and their essential role in the ecosystem is to keep it in balance, ensuring that the whole food chain remains intact and functioning. If sharks are removed the population of animals that they prey on will become unbalanced and our reefs, and the fisheries which depend on them, will collapse. To also see more than a dozen near term pups, who would have grown into essential parts of the ocean food chain, also killed further highlights the level of threat faced by these creatures. The arguments that a shark was responsible in the death of an Anguilla fisherman who went missing some months ago without any corroborative evidence, or the saying that any good shark is a dead shark, without any consideration for the importance of the species, is something which needs to be addressed in the wider Caribbean Sea.
Sharks are not the mindless predators we have been led to believe by movies and books and television series. I would recommend your readers to consider this the next time they use their telephone cameras to take a picture of themselves and their friends at say, a nightclub: the act of taking a selfie has killed more people in 2019 than in three years by sharks. And New Yorkers have bitten more people than sharks ever can and ever will, often times with more deadly consequences. Think about this the next time a flight arrives from JFK. Yet we are led to believe that these animals are mindless killing machines out to consume unsuspecting bathers. All this while annually humans kill one hundred million sharks a year. 100.000.000. Annually. Some estimates say that some sharks will be extinct by 2030, followed by many other species of fish, followed by the way of life we know as Caribbean people. And some may say that the shark will be eaten. This is in itself a problem: sharks are so full of mercury that eating them may be causing us to poison ourselves.
Aside from these facts, all of them established in science, the act of cutting up a live animal, a pregnant female, and leaving its pups spill out on the beach in front of children, dragging it up the beach causing it to suffocate is just cruel. Where is our moral compass, our realization that we are part of a whole with all of the creatures of this planet? Where is the realization that we should and must show compassion for all life? I find it difficult to believe that the people who were seen dragging this animal up the beach and seeing it suffocate and die did not feel some type of remorse, did not consider that this is a living thing that had a life, an animal that has seen things in the ocean that we never will, that has evolved much earlier than us and has formed the foundation of our very existence. I find it hard to acknowledge that somewhere, deep down in their hearts, they did not feel some form of negative emotion in doing this to such a magnificent example of God’s creation.
The Nature Foundation will continue with its shark conservation program that not only involves research and protection but also has a large educational component. It seems as if we have a long way to go in changing people’s perception of sharks, which luckily, are protected in the territorial waters of St. Maarten.
These animals are some of the most misunderstood, maligned yet most important creatures in our seas. Healthy Reefs Need Sharks. And to do this we should collectively Save our Sharks. Not only for their sake but, ultimately, for ours.
Manager Sint Maarten Nature Foundation
Narrow Road 48 Cole Bay