Is it Shark Week yet?! Nah, but for PangeaSeed‘s founders and supporters, everyday of the year is fintastic. Los Angeles marks the fourth stop on a pioneering six city shark saving art tour featuring over 100 amazing global artists and 25 incredible film makers. RSVP on Facebook and join us tomorrow at LeBasse Projects for an artistic feeding frenzy! Proceeds from the sale of artwork, film screenings and donations will go directly to support PangeaSeed’s efforts to raise awareness and help educate the public on the importance of shark conservation and the preservation of ocean habitats. We had a chance to sit down with PangeaSeed’s founder Tre, and here’s what he had to say:
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LF: When did you become interested in the plight of sharks; how did PangeaSeed start?
PS: For several years now, I’ve been traveling all over Southeast Asia trying to catch a glimpse of the one animal that most people fear. Besides seeing them on menus and in fish tanks, only in a handful of occasions have I been fortunate enough to actually view these majestic creatures in their natural environment. Waters that were once deemed shark rich are now empty and the loss of such an essential predator resonates throughout the ecosystem as well as the local economy.
On the extreme other hand, for the past couple of years I have been campaigning against and documenting the unnecessary mass slaughter of sharks in Asia. From Hong Kong to Japan, literally up to our necks in the bodies and fins of what science considers to be one of the most important animals in the ocean. The relentless global pursuit to harvest the ocean’s sharks is staggering.
Feeling compelled to take action, I founded Japan’s first and only shark conservation non-profit organization, PangeaSeed. With the support of friends, family, and experts in the field, our goal through education and awareness is to encourage the younger generation to develop an understanding of the relationship have with sharks and the oceans as well as the direct effect their lifestyle and consumption habits have on the both.
When we first began a couple of years ago, it was nearly impossible to come across someone aware of the global shark plight. But times are changing. With the efforts of scientists, journalists, filmmakers, artists, photographers and activists worldwide, the message is spreading to the masses; specially with increasing global access to computers and the use of social media. It seems we’re seeing multiple new groups appear on Facebook daily dedicated to issues like shark and ocean conservation. The conservation arena is developing with technology and with easier access to information. You can virtually do everything on your own with little more than an Internet connection and old fashion hard work.
LF: How is the rapid mass depletion of sharks such a huge threat to the health of the world’s oceans today?
PS: For over 450 million years and older than the dinosaurs, surviving 5 major extinctions, sharks have shaped and balanced the delicate ocean ecosystem reigning at the top of the food chain as the ultimate apex predator. But within the last few decades, humans have drastically depleted the oceans of sharks with most governments turning a blind eye to the mass slaughter of the species. Late to mature and having few offspring, sharks are highly vulnerable to the pressures of overfishing. An estimated 70-100 million sharks are slaughtered annually for their fins to support the growing demand in Asia and Chinatown communities around the world. As an apex predator, sharks play an important and unique role in the ocean’s ecosystem, sharks keep fish populations in balance ensuring these species do not grow uncontrollably. The loss of apex predators can cause unforeseen catastrophes on an ecosystem that depend on them. Several studies are already identifying the problems.
LF: Tell me about your visit to the world’s first shark sanctuary in Palau.
PS: Fortunately, in the past three years, groundbreaking progress has begun to surface in defense of sharks. Starting in September of 2009 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, President H. E. Johnson Toribiong of the tiny island nation of Palau announced the pioneering decision to declare his nation’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone (roughly 630,000 square kilometers) the world’s first shark sanctuary.
While the declaration of the sanctuary is a noble step toward the preservation of Palau’s natural resources, it remains to be seen if the government will live up to the obligations that go along with protecting sharks. Patrolling and enforcement of the sanctuary, a space roughly the size of France, is a major, if not impossible, task. The tiny island nation has only one patrol boat to police the entire area, and with little funding for fuel, the boat spends most of its time in port. In 2009, the Australian government volunteered to conduct an aerial survey of Palau’s EEZ revealing over 70 vessels fishing within the sanctuary at any given time. For many fishermen, the money made from fishing sharks and other endangered marine species is worth the risk of being caught. The shark fin industry alone is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut rivaling illegal drugs and guns in terms of profit.
As is the case with many small island nations the world over, Palau’s government depends upon subsides from countries such as Japan, China, and Taiwan. Ironically, it’s these countries that are responsible for the demise of global shark populations as well as many other highly sought after marine species including tuna, wrasse and swordfish. These countries donate hundreds of millions of dollars annually for exclusive fishing rights and access to other natural resources.
Scuba diving is a multibillion dollar global industry sustaining multiple levels of otherwise limited island economies. From hotels to restaurants, taxi’s to airports, scuba divers seek out locations that are considered rich in marine biodiversity. A small nation like Palau is ultimately dependent on the health of the oceans for its short and longterm survival. President Toribiong appears to realize the benefits of protecting marine species including sharks from this economic standpoint. Ecotourism, scuba and shark diving equal big money. For example, one live shark can generate multiple times the amount of money versus one shark slaughtered for its fins. Protecting sharks is a good investment for Palau and essentially a savings account for the nation’s future. Sharks play an essential role in the outcome of Palau’s longevity. “The strength and beauty of sharks are a natural barometer for the health of the oceans, I call on all nations to join us” said President Toribiong during the UN declaration.
Since the declaration of the sanctuary, the decision has rippled through coastal and island communities around the world and has been instrumental toward the recent global movement to protect sharks. Similar declarations and legislation to protect sharks have been passed in the Maldives, Honduras, Indonesia and Hawaii. And most recently in January in the United States, President Obama signed into effect The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 which will stiffen the ban and close loopholes in existing shark finning laws. Note that similar legislation just became a law in Saipan and Guam.
As one of the world’s leading advocates for shark preservation, Palau is paving the way for what could become the global blueprint for protecting the marine environment. By striving to create a balance between the sustainability of its natural resources, for the present and future generations, while trying to appease and avoid biting the hands that feed them, it is a daunting task but one that Toribiong seems passionate about. With the clock ticking, we can only hope the message is contagious.
LF: What is one misconception most people have about the actual state of the oceans?
PS: That the ocean is inexhaustible and too large to damage. The ocean has limits and we are abusing those limits at break-neck speed. The United Nations now estimates that global fish stocks will be in full collapse by the year 2048 if we don’t change current destructive fishing and consumption habits. Even more frightening is that most sharks species could be extinct in the next 10 – 20 years.
Overfishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, acidification and coastal development are some of the major issues threatening the ocean – it’s our daily consumption habits that will decide the fate of our blue planet.
LF: What are the most amazing / shocking things you’ve discovered in your travels?
PS: While it is amazing to experience how everyone and everything is connected across the globe, having the same desires and needs, it is also shocking to realize to what extent American consumerism has taken its toll on both ecosystems and people’s health.
In some of the most secluded, supposedly inaccessible and pristine places, what one sees is far from unblemished. – Uninhabited islands turned into dumpsites by garbage washed ashore, plastic-addiction and unchecked consumerism spreading like a contagion.
It is our everyday decisions that affect the state of the planet. As individuals, we need to remain alert and aware of what and how we consume.
LF: How has working with arts and design helped you raise awareness for the environmental issues you are fighting for?
PS: Using creative means to raise awareness for the plight of sharks challenges the common representation of the animal, as demonized man-eaters and ruthless killers, and provides an incredible platform for open dialogue with the general public.
It’s stunning how supportive artists around the world are and how diversely they express themselves through their artwork to give sharks and oceans the voice they desperately need.
In my opinion, art and design are some of the most inspirational ways to promote more sustainable lifestyles.
LF: What collaborations / pieces of artwork are you most excited about? Can you share a teaser with our readers?
PS: This year we’ve branched out to so many different mediums of art to promote our cause. Besides artwork hanging on walls, music and film have become notable means of expression. E.g. the collaboration with Beneath the Waves Film Festival has allowed us to bridge the gap between scientists and pop ocean conservationists.
Further, “Me and My Shark Fin“ directed by supporting artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham and Saddiq Abubakar features Kool Kid Kreyola, a fine artist exploring rap as a satirical vehicle to raise awareness for the plight of sharks. – This ingenious take on the issue has paved the way to entirely new audiences around the world.
Link – Me & My Shark Fin: https://vimeo.com/45490562 – at=0
LF: What do you hope to achieve with The Great West Coast Migration?
PS: First and foremost we aim to raise greater awareness by networking with artists, conservationists and the general public.
We are also launching our permanent U.S. chapter based out of Huntington Beach, CA. – inspiring and empowering the youth, the future gatekeepers of the planet, will be one of the key elements of PangeaSeed West Coast.