Posted by: letsharkslive | December 24, 2010

Response to the “Slaughter in Playa Del Carmen Mexico” posting

Mary O’Malley of Shark Savers, sent me this thoughtful response, which though posted belatedly, should be seriously read and considered, because the problems will remain if not addressed in a realistic manner.

Mary wrote:

Dear Steven,

Thank you for writing. The shark killing incident from Playa del Carmen is heart breaking for sure. I agree with you that it’s important to review what led to this incident in order to hopefully prevent future tragedies like it. Certainly I don’ t know the solution to this problem, but would like to offer some ideas for discussion. In the meantime, I also forwarded your message to two shark scientists last night (after receiving your first message) to ask for their input. I’ve copied them on this message.

Here are a few points to consider in this discussion:

In general Shark Diving is good for sharks.

Shark diving operations contribute greatly to changing the public’s perception about sharks and gaining support for shark conservation. Many, many people who have dedicated themselves to shark conservation (including me) came to understand and care about sharks through diving with them.

Shark diving operations also create a powerful economic alternative to shark harvesting. Most governments and people still view sharks as just another fishery resource to be exploited, and don’t really care too much if sharks are wiped out. Demonstrating the value of sharks to dive tourism was the primary factor in the decisions to create shark sanctuaries in Palau, The Maldives and most recently in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

The practices of baiting, chumming and feeding are controversial and have been heavily debated. I think that most divers would prefer to see sharks in a natural setting, but unfortunately there are very few places left where this is possible. A ban on all of these practices would devastate shark tourism and would be a huge blow to shark conservation.

Sharks are under siege. Many species are being overfished to the point of no return, and gaining protections at any level of government is an exhausting uphill battle. The few places that have enacted full protections for sharks have done so because of their economic value to dive tourism.

To anyone who cares about sharks and their conservation, please be careful here. There are many people who will take advantage of this incident and any criticisms of shark diving or any specific operations or practices to make a blanket condemnation of shark diving and shark tourism.

You mentioned that the fishermen killed fewer sharks before the shark diving operations started. Those sharks, however, were by no means safe. Mexico has very few protections in place for sharks and is one of the top shark fisheries in the world. Shark diving operations or no, those sharks were in a great deal of danger. And now the people who live in the community are actually angry about the sharks being killed. I doubt that many people cared much when sharks were killed before.

Sharks need to be protected in shark diving areas:

In locations where shark diving operations are conducted, sharks need to be protected. I agree with you that advertising and promoting a location where sharks aggregate (for whatever reason) can (actually will) make them a target. This is obvious, but there is also a chicken or the egg situation here. It will probably be difficult, if not impossible, to convince the appropriate government to protect sharks until you can demonstrate the economic value. And of course it could be hard to do that before starting the operation that creates the value.

HOWEVER, now that we have a number of examples throughout the world that demonstrate the value of sharks, we can approach governments with evidence clearly demonstrating that sharks are much more valuable alive to tourism than to fisheries.

It’s a shame that no protections and enforcement were in place before this incident. This is something that needs to be addressed in Playa del Carmen and anywhere else that sharks are known to aggregate.

Shark aggregations should be studied (using non-lethal research!):

Studying sharks in important aggregation areas, such as Playa del Carmen, can help to increase our understanding of sharks’ behavior and their movements. This data can be used to justify protections in areas where they are needed most, and may also provide some insight into methods and guidelines for diving with them in a manner that doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the sharks or the divers.

Moving forward.

Let’s talk about getting some protections in place for sharks in this area. I’m looking forward to talking with you about a positive solution.

Thank you!!


Mary O’Malley
Shark Savers




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