07 February 2012

Oman's Shame!

As a scuba-diver and someone who likes to see marine life in its natural habitat, I have always been saddened by the piles of little sharks evident in fish markets and on fish counters at Lulu supermarkets across the country.  Some of these small sharks might be a diminutive species, but I suspect many are simply babies - whipped out of the ocean at a tender age and denied the chance to grow and reproduce.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the grave consequences of that.  Where will the next generation of sharks come from?


Everyday I see more and more disturbing evidence of unregulated and unsustainable fishing practices and I am becoming increasingly angry.  Why is nothing being done??


Oman is currently basking in the glory of having Muscat voted one of Lonely Planet's top 10 cities to visit as well as Arab Tourism Capital 2012.  I wonder what tourists would make of what is going on? Oman undoubtedly has much to offer foreign visitors, but for how long? Just like it's oil wont last forever, it's ocean bounty wont either.  Once Oman has finished pillaging the sea and building monstrosities on every last unspoilt coastline, what will be left? An opera house and some shopping malls?! Oman's point of difference from it's GCC neighbours lies in its natural beauty, its ruggedness, its lack of in-your-face commercialism.  Much of Oman is still like travelling back in time. This is the beauty of the country and what makes it so unique and appealing.  It is incredibly distressing that short-term thinking is likely to be responsible for the destruction of all that for future generations.  And let me be clear - this isn't just about tourism (an industry Oman will become increasingly reliant on). It's about Omani children, and their children's children.  In the words of an Italian friend commenting on a shocking photo on Facebook: "Dear Omanis you are breaking the chain of the natural balance and tomorrow your children will eat the sand....."   The picture which inspired this response was this:


Yes, that entire truck is full of tiny (baby?) sharks.  Here's another one:




We can't go on like this! Sharks are absolutely essential for a healthy reef and, without them, a decline in the numbers of other fish is bound to follow.  This is a fact which few seem to understand.  More predators actually results in greater diversity.  Sharks play a vital role in the health of ocean ecosystems.  The pictures above show hundreds of dead sharks - and this is just one catch on one day. How many are being caught every other day by different people in different places? These particular photos were taken in Dhofar.  Such an abundance of juveniles could suggest that the region is an area for shark breeding.  These creatures need protection!!!


Policing fishing isn't an easy task - even where regulations exist.  The government needs to work on this as a matter of urgency.  There is no doubt that the relevant Ministries are aware of what's going on, so why aren't they doing anything about it? At this rate, by the time they get their act together it will be too late!  It is such a contradiction that whilst the Ministry of Tourism proudly fills its web pages with beautiful underwater shots to entice snorkellers & divers, elsewhere those very creatures are being hauled out of the ocean to make a quick buck.  It doesn't add up!


At the same time, companies like Lulu are complicit in supporting the shark-fishing industry by continuing to stock shark products.  At a time when companies are under increasing pressure to conduct business in a socially responsible way, a supermarket of this stature should know better.  I often see sharks like those in the images above sitting on the fish counter for under a rial per kilo.  They're cheap! In the ocean they are worth so, so much more. You can't place a value on it.  So whilst seeing sharks in Lulu is sadly unsurprising to me, I was nonetheless shocked by the following image which depicts not just any shark, but a baby HAMMERHEAD SHARK! 




I don't know what particular type of hammerhead this is, but many hammerheads are endangered.  I urge you to contact Lulu and request that they cease their trade in sharks.  I have heard that Carrefour (the other main player in Oman) have already done so, but have been unable to get confirmation of this thus far.  I have written to them requesting clarification and will report back when I receive a reply.  I would also suggest that you contact EMKE who are the Abu-Dhabi based parent company operating Lulu.  I plan to draft a template letter to Lulu which I will post on here for those of you who wish to use it.


Sometimes there is so much frustration and heart-break in trying to campaign against these practices that you wonder if the uphill struggle is worth it.  It is! It has to be! If only to never have to see another picture like this:




For those who don't know, this is not a typical shark, but a whale shark - a magnificent, majestic, completely harmless, plankton-eating creature.  Here you see one being caught recently by fishermen in Oman. This is a shocking image that brings shame on the Sultanate.  Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).  Aside from their conservation status, they are also worth a hell of a lot more alive than they are dead.  For most divers it would be a life-long dream to have the opportunity to swim with one.  Divers travel to whale shark hot-spots across the globe in the hope of seeing one.  If Oman were known as a whale-shark diving location it would bring divers from far and wide, along with the cash they would inject into dive shops, boats, hotels, restaurants and other attractions.  I had the great fortune to dive with a whale shark in Thailand and it was an incredible, life-affirming experience.  I truly hope to see one in Oman in the ocean where it belongs.


I should say at this point that it is not my intention to vilify local fishermen with this post.  Most fishermen are simply trying to earn a living and provide for their families.  No-one wants to deny them that.  The fishing community need to become part of the solution, and they need to be offered alternative income streams.  The fishermen already know the oceans, know their boats.  Their expertise could be put to other uses (e.g. running dive shops, boat tours etc.).  Regulating fishing isn't about denying anyone a job.  It is about ensuring there will still be fish to catch in generations to come.  Conservation efforts need to involve local communities if they are to be successful.


Fortunately there are others out there who feel the same way and are committed to tackling these issues.  To that end, I ask that you support both Sea Legends and Shark Watch Oman who are doing great work in this field. Please 'like' their facebook pages to stay up to date with what's going on.





5 comments:

Roya Al Lamki said...

Thank you for sharing this insight into what is going on. It must and should be stopped. I watched a movie called "The Cove". It brought the sad reality of the plight of the sharks and dolphins closer, and I support spreading this news to the public and to the authorities. I don't want Oman to be listed as one of those countries that terrorise these sea creatures.

Travelallergy said...

Great post! And good that you mention Lulu. I hope they will listen. Because the fact that they still sell shark is simply outrageous!
They seem to have listened when you wrote about their whole plastic bag thing. Not that they're not giving them to their customers anymore but they are now selling reusable bags. Of course this is only a beginning but a change has to start somewhere....

Serene K. said...

Thank you for posting this. Oman is where I grew up and it saddens me greatly to see this destruction of one of the most beautiful places on the planet.There's a part of me that wishes the world had never known about this treasure of Arabia. Why do we humans always destroy the most beautiful things around us? I remain hopeful that those of us who feel so strongly about this can arrest the complete destruction of this natural beauty.

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acg227 said...

We all need to educate people in what is happening to our oceans, especially the plight of the sharks. Sharks are worth more alive than dead. Our oceans will not exist if the top apex predator becomes extinct. If the oceans die, we will die along with them, as the oceans supply 50% of our planet's oxygen.
Our oceans are dying, overfishing and the barbaric killing of sharks, whales and dolphins must stop. The oceans are a fragile eco system which man has no right to tamper with.