Zakia is a self proclaimed nerd, shark lover and ocean ambassador. She works tirelessly to educate and engage every age range on the crucial role that the ocean plays. and we think that she is a phenomenal force for sustainability.
Image by Zakia Rashid
Words by Zakia Rashid
Our oceans are in peril. Only now are we truly waking up to the truth that we have plundered, polluted and poisoned the origin of all life on the planet. A seemingly infinite resource damaged in ignorant bliss - like a toddler in a china shop.
My personal, and slightly biased, view is that sharks are key to saving the ocean. Yes, the infamous, iconic creature from Jaws; the vengeful man-killers, the emotionless killing machines with their cold, dead eyes… the perfect villain. The shark myths created for the 1975 hit movie have embedded a deep culture of fear that remains to this day. I want to change those beliefs. I learned to dive in the Maldives and experienced my first shark encounter. I was 12 metres deep and saw a 6ft reef shark swim toward the dive group. We locked eyes and… it quickly turned and swam in the opposite direction. I was confused. My questions for the dive guides on the boat, were met with eye rolls and gentle smiles - no, they’re not interested in humans. It was the first time I heard the phrase, “Jaws was not a documentary”.
That fleeting moment embedded the tiniest seed of curiosity in my mind, a grain of sand in my shoe that would remind me of it’s presence every now and then for the next 13 years. It niggled away until I finally organised my first dive trip with sharks in mind and even then I knew I needed more. I’ve been feeding my addiction ever since and experienced the most wonderful encounters with multiple species. Now, I’ve made it my mission to change the way we look at sharks and prove the deadly serial killer is actually the silent hero. The "man eating monster” is a, charismatic, intelligent creature and a pleasure to see on any dive - even with my children. Sharks have so much more to fear from us. We kill over 100 million sharks each year; we kill them for their teeth, jaws, fins and meat - and it’s not just the Chinese soup to blame. The general public are unaware of the many different names for shark in the supermarket or at the local fish and chip shop. You should also note that a recent study found alarming concentrations of methyl mercury in shark meat.
Scientific studies led by Lynne Sneddon at Liverpool University, have concluded that fish pain systems are virtually the same as birds and mammals. Finning is a brutal practice where sharks are caught, their fins are sliced off and often, while they’re still alive, they’re thrown back into the ocean where they bleed out, suffocate and die. Why would you waste valuable cargo space to hold an entire fish when you can load up on the most lucrative part of the shark to adorn a bowl of soup? Please note that unlike, cheese, meats and alcohol, it is currently legal to import 20kg of shark fins into the UK absolutely tax free. An issue highlighted by Bite-Back Shark Conservation in 2015 which is finally up for debate in Parliament this year.
Sharks are vital apex predators and are known in the marine world as a keystone species. They play a crucial role in maintaining ocean and reef health. As opportunistic feeders, they are able to switch food sources to pick off the old, sick, or dying. Their predation helps spread marine species around reefs and they keep population proportions in check - called the top down effect or trophic cascade. They are being removed from the ocean at a shocking rate. The IUCN Red list states 143 species of shark as critically endangered, endangered, near threatened or vulnerable. No sharks means algae filled, dead oceans. We have an alarming 405 dead zones in the world and the number is growing. Compare that to a healthy reef where shark populations are protected and life explodes! The Misool Sanctuary in Raja Ampat has seen a fish biomass increase of up to 600% in less than 10 years. The Maldives banned shark fishing 10 years ago with similar results. Dive tourism there, increased the value of a shark sold for food from $35 US dollars dead to $3500.00 alive.
Still not convinced? I’m sure you’ve heard the Amazon referred to as, “the lungs of the world” - it produces 20% of our oxygen. The ocean is the biggest carbon sink and produces around 70% of the oxygen we need making it number one in the list of important ecological systems on the planet. So you see? My love of sharks is pretty well justified. We need to concern ourselves with what is going on under the surface of our blue planet. If we protect sharks and make the oceans a better place for them, we make the world a better place for ourselves.
Ways you can help sharks right now!
Zakia is a self proclaimed nerd, shark lover and ocean ambassador. She works tirelessly to educate and engage every age range on the crucial role that the ocean plays. She founded Mother Ocean Blue Club and we think that she is a phenomenal force for sustainability.
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