Saving Sharks – The human touch
By Madison Stewart
We asked seven inspirational divers, environmentalists, and ocean advocates to act as Fin Collection ‘shark ambassadors’, celebrating their work and their special connection with sharks and with the ocean. Madison represents the Dusky Shark.
In 2018, fourth element supported Madison Stewart’s pioneering project to introduce eco tourism as a means of tackling a shark fishery on the island of Lombok, Indonesia. Madison documented this in her film Project Hiu, which premiered at the Underwater Film Festival in Zurich in October last year. She travelled to a fishing village where the residents’ main income source was the shark trade, and chartered a vessel to show them that it was possible to build a secure future without needing to catch and kill these threatened ocean giants.
We caught up with Madi a year on to see how things were progressing and the results were beyond her expectations…
Words by Madison Stewart / Images by Perrin James
With suspicion in his face, the shark fishermen talked to us reluctantly as he took sharks off his boat to sell, wondering why I was there asking him if he’s ever taken tourists snorkelling. Flash-forward a year and he is running up the dock to grab the first aid kit from my hands to make sure I carry nothing and greets my guests. He calls me “little boss” and laughs. His crew of 10 on two boats are waiting to greet us; this is the fifth trip I’ve done with them now and they continue to impress me with their customer service, knowledge of the area and willingness to let a 25-year old foreigner become their boss. They should be at sea, away from their families, targeting sharks, instead they are here with me taking my tourists snorkelling.
I started this project almost a year ago: a place I had only travelled to in order to film dead sharks being sold off has now become my second home, Project Hiu (“Hiu” meaning “shark” in Indonesian) has established a new income for the fishermen here involving tourism, instead of fishing sharks.
Now I visit the shark fishermen when I can, bringing tourists from all over the world, we surf, swim and dive off their boats for about a week, each day I pay them for each boat. According to my math, an average fishing trip would make them roughly $1300AUD, factoring in costs and fuel that leaves the captain with around $150AUD for the two weeks and the crew with around $100AUD each for that time. Without killing sharks, without taking their boats two days offshore just to begin fishing, with me they make this money in 5 days and don’t have the expenses. Of course, its not a perfect or even sustainable solution right now, but we’re introducing a mentality and an opportunity that seems to be flourishing under their guidance.
The most important and surprising thing about this project for me has been starting it with only sharks in mind, but changing it to keep people in mind. I’ve never cared too much about the human side of the story, but saving sharks here has meant the entire community needed to benefit from my presence if we were going to inflict any real change. So here are a few things that have made this possible… Every time I go to the village I pay the school a ‘custom owner fee’ this is a fee equal to about $20 Australian dollars for each person who steps foot on the island where the fishermen live on the day of the trip we go there, this money is then handed to a teacher in the school who uses it for supplies.
This allows everyone in the community, not just the fishermen, to benefit in some way from our presence. In addition to this, we started a program supplying the women of the island with a small income, they finally have a chance to sell the amazing hand made sarongs they craft over a two week period to outsiders, which I sell through my social media after buying from them. This returning income for them offers them independence and through my research on fisheries in the area, I’ve seen evidence that the women are also affected by any changes in fishing. The document “The History of Shark Fishing in Indonesia” states, “catch restrictions will reduce downstream processing of shark products, an important source of employment, especially for females. Restrictions on fisheries output will create ripple effects throughout the entire economy.”
Some future plans I want to bring to this island involve helping the management of their waste and providing financial incentives to recycle, as currently all their trash enters the ocean. I want to bring English teachers for the children in school so they may have opportunities in tourism in the future, clean drinking water, a community garden and more. But without a doubt, two things have happened thus far in project Hiu that remain my biggest success… the first is the people who have come on my trips, mothers, plumbers, scientists, students and more. Being able to take every single one to the shark market and then being able to take them on the repurposed boats and seeing their passion for conservation become sparked. The second, is the mentality we are introducing, the first ever insight into shark conservation being based off understand and not hatred, the idea we can work together, the idea that those who love sharks will not just come to their fishery to film and demonise them, but will come with an open mind, willing to learn, help and then seeing how well the fishermen respond to this.
The last trip I ran was less about the essential elements of environmental change, instead, it had a more human touch. Timing my trip there to coincide with travelling ocean artist Francesca Page. Using the shark fishing boats, she and I travelled to the island to prep the library wall in the school. It was covered in pen marks and scratches with lose wires hanging down and there was no other artwork or even painted walls in the entire school. We prepped it white the first day, the next she did the black outline and a few days later with my ten guests we cracked open the different colours of paint we brought with us, and the 20 paintbrushes. Instead of creating a perfectly painted and structured mural of coral and sharks on the school wall, we stood back and let the 50 plus children running in and out of the room totally destroy it haha. Fran wanted them to be involved, and to remember they created it every time they looked at it, and she was so right to do this. The children coloured in their own school, they painted the sharks and they had so much fun doing so. The teachers watched and it seemed everyone in the village stuck their heads in at one point.
I came into this project and this village wanting to save sharks, and a year on I’ve forgotten that’s what we’re actually doing. I’ve discovered the end result of saving sharks starts with helping people, the issues our oceans face aren’t always driven by greed and lack of education, rather by necessity and lack of opportunity. I cannot help sharks without helping the men that fish them, without helping their children, without helping the entire village. It’s a huge food chain of people involved and relying on the presence of shark fishing, and it’s a new one for me to learn about, to study, and to change the best I can.
“Only a year on, I cannot wait to see how this project either continues to progress, or crumbles into pieces, either way, its going to continue, because that is how we change this world, by having no idea what we are doing, but knowing only one thing – we have to do something”.
OceanPositive Dusky Bikini
The traditional triangle bikini has been updated with a crossed back and adjustable tie to ensure the best fit and security for the wearer. Clean, minimal lines make this a classic bikini.