Sharks are friends. They bring balance to the marine life.
This is according to the Director of the Global Shark Conservation - The Pew Charitable Trusts, Jennifer Sawada.
Jennifer was part of the Pacific Ministerial Shark Symposium organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, held in Apia last week.
Growing up next to the beach in Southern California stirred her passion about the ocean and the importance of the marine environment for the survival of mankind.
“The more and more that we learn of how important our surrounding is to our survival, there is a need for us to make sure it remains intact for our future generation.
“I want my children to go scuba diving and still see that there are sharks underwater. I don’t want to tell them like we used to have these like dinosaurs but we don’t have them anymore,” she said.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Jennifer said being underwater with the sharks is an eye opening experience.
“So I am a scuba diver and I have been in the water with them, seeing them underwater and how graceful they are, they are almost like puppies.
“Sharks are really beautiful and graceful underwater if people could actually experience that, they are not killing machines or vicious or even after you.
“They don’t really care much about you, they go about their own business that is not what they are out there to do,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer explained that sharks are important because they benefit people’s livelihoods.
“If you don’t have the balance of all the biodiversity and all the species that are maintaining that ecosystem, then things will be unbalanced, they are helpful because they make the fish population stronger, the things that they kill are the weak and sick, they take out the weaklings and keep the strong ones.
“The strong ones get to reproduce and that population then gets stronger.
“They provide a number of different benefits; ecologically they help maintain healthy oceans and marine ecosystems.
“They help maintain the population of healthy fish that are below them in the food web. Some of those fish populations are important either for food security or martially valuable fish species.
“Some Pacific countries have shark clans so those are some of the cultural importance and economic importance, not the man fishing and taking it to the market to sell, but more so if you are a country that is willing to invest in sustainable ecotourism like shark diving, which is what divers and snorkelers like to do when they travel.”
With the more than 500 known shark species, Jennifer said half of the population is at risk of extinction.
“The reason for that is the biological trait that they have, which makes them more similar to mammals and that they live longer, and it takes them a long time to reach maturity to start reproducing.”
The only challenge she faces is educating people sharks are not dangerous.
“Many Pacific islanders that I have meant are just scared of them. Sharks have an important role in marine life and they are not there to eat you, we need them. People just need to understand.”
Jennifer mentioned commercial fishing is the biggest killer for sharks.
“Even if the vessel goes out looking for a tuna, sharks are going to inevitably get caught in the lines as well. There are some sharks that could survive on the line, but there are some which die on the line which is where the shark sanctuary comes in,” she said.
“For example Samoa is a shark sanctuary now and that means they ban commercial fishing for sharks, doesn’t mean that the local Samoans can’t go out and catch a shark to take home to feed their family.
“It is not saying that you cannot use it for food to support your family or village, the sanctuary takes out the incentive to not catch more of them and send them overseas.
Jennifer explained: “Not many people are killed by sharks compared to how many people died because they were struck by lightning.
“Every year there are more than 100 sharks that are caught by commercial fisheries and that is way too many and too fast, so we are killing them all compared to them coming after us.”
According to Jennifer, Samoa has Blue sharks and it is important to conserver those sharks.
She acknowledged all the participants who attended the meeting.
“The Pacific region is very powerful because in this region, when these countries all unite and work, they are very successful.
“We have seen it many times. They are able to get everyone on board. If the Pacific can do it, then that means other countries can do it as well.”