By Hannah Schartmann.
Zara is working for the Gili Shark Conservation Project, which is situated on the island Gili Air in Indonesia. This area is home of two threatened shark species, the Black Tip Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and the White Tip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus). The aim of the project is to protect shark populations through education of local communities and research.
Hi Zara, a warm welcome to the interview. You are working for the Gili Shark Conservation Project. Can you please tell me more about your project?
We are a small grassroots organization based on Gili Air Lombok Indonesia. The Gili Islands play host to a Marine Protected Area (MPA): The Gili Matra Marine Recreational Reserve. We collect abundant data year round within the different zones of the MPA using a variety of survey methods to assess the health of each zone; we then share our findings with the government to make them aware of the conditions and environmental changes, highlighting areas that are suffering to encouraging them to take action. For marine conservation to be effective we need to know about the population of the species we aim to protect and to learn about their life history and the environment they chose to live in.
Which methods are you using to collect your data?
We use for example the Photographic Identification to identify as many resident individuals as possible in order to create a profile for each individual and track their behavior and movements. We also use this method to give us a better idea of the true population of each species. Furthermore, we are diving and we deploy underwater cameras to gain information about behavior and movements of the sharks.
“Think about it: We know more about the surface of our moon than we know about our oceans. In a world where everything is over-shared, overexposed, and overused, the ocean is our last frontier, where fascinating new discoveries are happening every day.”
The Gili Shark Conservation Project has the goal to protect sharks. Why is it important to protect them?
Sharks are fascinating creatures and critical to the health of the marine ecosystem which is the most diverse ecosystem in the world. Their existence keeps the oceans balanced and healthy which in turn allows us to continue to survive. They have existed for millions of years however over the last thirty years alone many species have diminished due to the careless actions of humans. To save the oceans we need to save the sharks.
Think about it: We know more about the surface of our moon than we know about our oceans. In a world where everything is over-shared, overexposed, and overused, the ocean is our last frontier, where fascinating new discoveries are happening every day.
Your project was launched on the Gili Islands. Why did you choose this area for the conservation of sharks?
We chose this area because it is a critical habitat for sharks and deserves better protection. This area was declared a MPA (Marine Protected Area) in 1993 before the Gili islands had become a popular tourist hub and has never been properly monitored or re-assessed since its initial creation. Studies have shown that the MPA is a shark nursery area and therefore a critical habitat for these near threatened species. Over the last 26 years since the MPA’s creation the Gili Islands have changed dramatically, becoming a popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, the high demand for accommodation and tourist activities combined with a lack of education in the importance of and how to care for the environment amongst the people providing for tourist demands has let to excessive coastal development, unhealthy waste management strategies and depletion of corals and marine life within the MPA.
When people think of sharks they often associate them with fear. Why should people rethink their feeling about sharks?
Unfortunately, many people have let the media and ridiculous fictional characters in movies such as “Jaws” form their view on sharks. They believe that sharks are ruthless human killing machines and that they are just sitting in the ocean waiting to eat any human that passes by. I have never heard of a shark eating a human, most attacks are thought to have been mistakes (the shark thinking a surfer is a seal for example). For people to overcome their fear of sharks they should educate themselves about these fascinating creatures and get to understand them.
Many shark species are threatened with extinction. What are the main threats and why?
Overfishing is a major factor in the depletion of shark populations around the world. Indonesia is one of the top shark fishing nations in the world due to the demand of shark products (specifically fins) from neighboring countries such as China. This demand creates a market for fishermen in Indonesia to supply (a country where fishing is the main source of income for thousands of families and communities). Fishermen are happy to catch sharks in Indonesia because they can sell their catch for much more, they sell the value of a shark dead as the profit from the catch provided for their family however due to a lack of education they do not understand that in fact those sharks are far more valuable alive than dead.
Beside of the shark conservation, what else are you trying to archive on the Gili Islands?
We are very excited to announce that this year we will start a coral restoration project in partnership with Seakeepers and Oceans5 dive resort. Moreover, we have a land-based project called “Plastic Free Paradise”, which is designed to educate people in plastic free solutions and offer alternatives to one use plastic products.
This sounds interesting. How is this project working?
Under this project we have several sub-projects. Firstly, we offer all local businesses on the island a free plastic free training class designed to educate the local community in plastic free solutions. Furthermore, our team attends the local elementary school here on Gili Air to host ‘Club Harapan’ (Meaning Club Hope in Indonesian) on every Saturday morning. The lesson plans aim to educating the children about the environment and promoting conservation efforts from a young age. Every Friday morning our team carries out a dive against debris collecting any trash or debris found.
What do you think: How should a healthy ocean look like?
A healthy ocean should be balanced and trash free. With a balance among species the oceans could thrive with life and coral reefs would be healthy. The eco-system would work as it should without pollution, overfishing and global warming.
Do you have any goals and plans for the future?
We are very excited to start our coral restoration project in the coming months. We would like to continue to educate people in conservation efforts. With better protection we hope to see the corals grow into healthy environments where fish populations are plentiful. We also hope that with our plastic free paradise activities that one day the Gili islands really can be plastic free.
Do you have any messages for the general public regarding marine conservation?
Educate yourself and protect what you love. It is the responsibility of all of us to protect our planet and little by little together we can achieve a lot. Everyone can help to protect sharks by making good purchase decisions, for example not buying shark teeth as souvenirs or ordering products that create a demand for sharks to be caught.
Be eco-friendly during your holidays by wearing reef safe sunscreen before entering the ocean and disposing of trash properly.
It is great when people really dedicate their holiday to doing good and chose to join programs such as ours as a research assistant, helping to collect critical data for marine life along with participating in numerous conservation efforts every day. Not everyone has that much time on their hands however everyone can get involved by participating in community events in the area such as beach clean ups or dives against debris to help to reduce the amount of trash in our ocean.
Jobs in the field of marine conservation can sometimes be exhausting. How do you keep motivated and what is your inner sources of strength?
We are a relatively young project with a small committed team who work with passion and dedication to achieve our mission and dreams.
Inside just three years we went from being an idea of three ocean lovers to a successful research facility hosting participants from around the world, year round to assist us in multiple land and marine based projects. Our strength comes from our passion, determination, each other and the amazing participants who join us.
Thank you very much for the interview! If you would like to learn more about the Gili Shark Conservation Project, please visit their website: https://gilisharkconservation.com/
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