Thursday, 23 June 2016

How much is a shark worth alive? Richard Aspinall talks about the value of sharks, and conservation, to the tourist trade

It’s a sad fact that to conserve species we must occasionally assign them a monetary value.  Would the seals on the Farne Islands be as well protected if they didn’t help fill the boats with wildlife watchers, now crewed with folk that once earned their living solely from catching fish and hauling lobster pots? Would the banks of the Tweed be as rich with bird life and as seemingly untouched as they are if salmon fishing didn’t bring in countless thousands to the Scottish Borders’ economy?

Sadly, whether its Gorillas in Uganda or Puffins on Skomer, animals are best conserved when they can offer a direct, tangible and measurable income to the local economy.  Idealists like me might not like it, but there we are.  Whether its ecosystem services or dollars spent in game parks, the way to protect wildlife may well be to value them monetarily as well as intrinsically.

On a recent diving trip to the South of Egypt’s Red Sea coastline I was privileged to spend time with two Oceanic Whitetip sharks.  Oceanics are powerful fish, with long pectorals that when you’re with them you can understand how people describe them so easily as scything through the water.  

 Richard gets up close and personal

Back on the boat, still grinning after the encounter, I did a quick calculation.  It cost me something like 45 Euro for that day trip and there were perhaps 20 divers on the boat.  I saw four other boats moored up, all of whom would have put divers on that that site and we can assume also saw the fish.  Whilst Oceanic Whitetips are pelagic and wide-ranging, they are frequently found at this location.

So that’s perhaps 80 divers paying 45 Euros.  Each shark has generated a gross income, of 1800 Euro and there may well have been other boats there – we didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon after all. Now, in the Red Sea they dive daily, weather permitting, though since this site is only twelve kilometres off the coast, it’s usually reachable.  So if we do the maths; each fish is bringing in 657,000 Euros per year, at a conservative estimate.

Admittedly we must look at a nett figure.  How much the crew and boat costs is a mystery to me, but I haven’t even factored in the fact that a diving package and stay in my hotel was over 1500 Euros.  It all gets rather complicated and maths is not my forte, but I imagine, if the total value of any one shark could be measured in economic terms we’d be looking at way more than my 657,000 ‘back-of-an-envelope’ calculation.  Oh and did I mention that’s per year? Sharks can live for many decades.  Could these fish be worth twenty million Euro or more?  It seems an awful lot, but if shark fin soup cost that much, I think we’d see a few more fish left in the water.

Blog written by Richard Aspinall. Richard is a freelance journalist, travel writer, commercial photographer, underwater photographer, horticulturalist and proud Yorkshireman.  Sea-Changers are proud to be working with him and have the support of his companies, Aspinall Ink and Triggerfish Photography
All images used in the blog are owned and copyrighted to Richard Aspinall. 


Thursday, 19 May 2016

My Journey to be Become a Shark Diver by Underwater photographer, Chris Knight

Chris Knight
From a very young age I was fascinated by animals and was always reading wildlife books or glued to the TV watching wildlife documentaries. When I was about 10 years old I watched the original Jaws film. I know that these films were enough to put some people off of going in the sea for life but I was left thinking wow – wouldn’t it be cool to see a Great White one day.

My parents also helped as they knew that Jaws didn’t necessarily portray sharks as they really were so they brought me a book “Great Shark Stories” by Ron and Valerie Taylor who were very famous for their work on sharks and contributed massively towards the films in terms of the real footage that was used and how the animators needed to design the shark for the films.

In August 2010 I took myself off to Cape Town in South Africa. While there I took an introduction to Scuba Diving course and booked myself on to a Great White cage diving trip. The trip ran out to Dyer Island and shark alley which is world famous as being one of if not the biggest Great White hotspots in the world. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework and went out of season which meant after a very long drive and a long day at sea I still hadn’t seen a Great White.

Upon my return to the dive shop my instructor asked me how it was. He could see the disappointment on my face when I told him I didn’t see one so he made a suggestion. He said finish my Open Water dive certification as I was half way there with the introduction course that I did which was a pre requirement to go cage diving. When I had completed my course he presented me with my certificate and told me to go to the Waterfront Aquarium and ask for one of his friends and said that he had a surprise for me. I turned up and found the guy I needed to speak to who then took me off to a cupboard to find me some dive gear. When I asked him where we were diving he replied “I’m putting you in the main tank with the Ragged Tooth sharks!”. I’m not going to lie – I was a bit nervous but was also grinning from ear to ear at the same time. He briefed me on how to behave and what to look out for and we dropped in. From that moment I knew it wouldn’t be my last shark dive, I was hooked!

My journey in to photography
My interest in photography began when I took a mixed Art & Design course at East Berkshire Collage (BTEC National Diploma) where I was able to specialize in the subject in my second year. After graduating my work path changed direction and I moved to Germany to pursue a career in television.Upon my return I worked part time as a journalist & photographer for Wakeboard Magazine and also wrote and shot pictures for the occasional water sports article in university magazines and restaurant reviews in the local papers. Apart from this my photography remained mostly a hobby where I would try to shoot when I could.

Becoming a shark diver
After gaining qualifications as a PADI Divemaster and an Advanced Diploma in Marine Zoology my journey in to shark diving and underwater photography began. From then on I spent my spare time travelling to spectacular diving locations and volunteering for different marine organizations such as White Shark Projects in South Africa and the Whale Shark Research Programme in the Maldives.

A few years ago I met Shark Expert “Eli Martinez”, he set up Shark Diver Magazine which used to run as a printed publication. Through the magazine he started running expeditions to dive with the large predatory species of sharks in the best places in the world to see them. I have been a regular on his trips over the last four years and these excursions have enabled me to learn a lot about many species of marine animals whilst also enhancing my skills as an underwater photographer.

My underwater images have won a few competitions on Viewbug and I have had some of my work featured in calendars, articles and websites of different Marine Science Charities & Organizations such as: (Sharky education for kids and teachers), (earth touch news network) and (marine conservation science institute).

I think that it is important for the general public to be aware of the many aspects of marine conservation. A lot of people sit there eating things like tuna and prawns and have no idea about the dangers of over fishing and the rising levels of mercury and other contaminants that are finding its way in to our food through ocean pollution. If the general public made small changes like buying fish from sustainable food sources, it would make a huge difference to the health of our fish populations. People don’t understand that having an unhealthy ocean eco system can severely affect our life as land dwellers, since a well balanced and health ocean is very important to the overall life of our planet.I am and have always been a lover of sharks and one of the issues closest to my heart is the un necessary death of thousands of sharks due to finning. It sickens me to know how many sharks are loosing their life daily all for the sake of a bowl of tasteless soup that only serves to increase the status of the consumer!

I am looking forward to working with sea changers as I am keen to help out organizations like this that do great work to research and help protect our marine environment.The ocean and the animals in it are very important to me as I save all my money to travel the world and learn more about and photograph these wonderful creatures. I hope that my images will intrigue and inspire people to learn more about these animals and what they can do to help them. It is also nice to receive recognition and promotion for my photography while helping a good cause at the same time.

All the fantastic images in this blog are used with the kind permission of Chris Knight and subject to copyright. 

Monday, 18 April 2016

Your Health, Mindfulness, the Benefit of the Sea by Dr. Victoria Galbraith

Mindfulness is a hot topic in the wellbeing industry at the moment and something which we believe you should make time for every day if you can. Research evidence suggests that it can assist with a wide array of difficulties, from depression and anxiety to physical health conditions.
Dr. Victoria Galbraith
At SEAcotherapy, we see the use of mindfulness as a preventative factor in health and wellbeing. It is a lifelong skill that can assist with focusing upon the present rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. All we really have is the present, and we see engaging in the present moment as a therapeutic tool.

We are so passionate about the benefits of mindfulness that we have included it in all of our retreat packages. Mindfulness gives us the time and space which is often absent in the rat race of 21st century living. It allows us to take a moment, to be present, before moving on. Neuropsychology research is now demonstrating that it alters the structure of the brain towards positivity and balance. And, connecting with nature outdoors is known to create a sense of vitality with research showing us that being connected to nature for 20 minutes a day increases our positive mood and energy.

When you join one of our SEAcotherapy coastal retreats, you will discover the power of mindfulness but in a beautiful, calm and inspiring location. Through our retreats we use the coastline, embracing the power of the waves to help our guests to feel a sense of health and wellbeing. We view the sea as our co-therapist.

The mindfulness component of our retreats is facilitated by Dr.Victoria Galbraith or one of our qualified professional associates to deliver this approach. There are elements of mindfulness practice through each of our retreats, with both formal and informal practices taking place at various times during your stay with us. For example, mindfulness practice may take place on the beach, at your accommodation, we may even engage in mindful eating sessions and mindful creativity. Once you have mastered the craft of paddle boarding on certain select retreats, we may even encourage you to continue this practice mindfully. 

Want to try being more mindful everyday? Try the following tips to get you started.

  • Brush your teeth mindfully
  • Travel from A to B mindfully
  • Have a mindful meal
  • Have a mindful conversation
  • Take a mindful walk in nature

Seacotherapy has signed up to contribute to UK marine conservation activities by supporting  Sea-Changers. We will donate 1% of the value of all our sales to the charity. Customers will be invited to match this and make their own donations too.