Pip (Madison Stewart) knows that change is hard, so her approach with Project Hiu, on the Indonesian island of Lombok, is thoughtful and all-encompassing. This considerate approach is respectful of the culture, as she shares her expertise in the decline of shark populations to help fisherman understand their livelihood is at stake. Killing sharks to satiate the wealthy appetite of Hong Kong, China and Singapore of shark fins has spiralled out of control and has reduced their existence to dismal numbers. Pip shows the people the value in making a living from the sharks swimming free in their natural environment.
Her comprehensive approach is brilliant. She doesn’t just work with the fishermen, but with the children and women living within the community, broadening her reach, through education and generosity, and then finally by bringing in people from the outside, like myself, the last part of the equation - tourism.
This is the second part of a two part series of blog posts on the experiences I had on Pip's most recent tour. If you haven't already done so, read the first instalment here.
This experience had a profound impact on me...
Day Two: Market
Another early morning, this time wearing long sleeves and full length, baggy pants - market day attire. The community is mostly Muslim, and, due to this, it is important to show respect and follow the expectations set by the locals. This market takes place every single morning. When we pulled up it was hectic! Women carrying baskets of fish on their heads, buckets upon buckets full of fish on the floor. We hadn’t even gotten to the sharks yet. I closely followed the others in our group, I knew one minute of not paying attention would have me so lost.
We kept walking through till we got to the floor where the sharks are brought up and displayed. The smell was one of the worst parts. I had prepared to see the dead sharks through Pips post for a while, but the smell was unexpected. We were instructed to smile and ask questions, look happy. Pip briefed us before we arrived on how to act so that we don’t draw negative attention to ourselves. Our ignorant, non-responsive demeanour towards the dead sharks is the reason she can keep returning to this market and take images of the catch. She doesn’t want the fishermen to think we are there to make them look bad and she tells us to be cautious with how we refer to them on social media as well, insisting they are just like us, trying to feed their families.I kept my happy face on throughout the morning, and the impact of it didn’t hit till later when I looked through my tiger shark footage and saw the lifeless eyes. My favourite part, when swimming with sharks, is watching their eye watch you. The intelligence behind it’s gaze, the curiosity, is a stark contrast to the ones I saw laying lifeless on the floor surrounded in their own blood.
I watched Scalloped Hammerheads being brought up, a juvenile tiger shark, full grown blues (that I have never seen in the water), and rays. The carnage was full on. The craziest part is that this is the fishermen's everyday life, it's a normality for them. Just as working at a restaurant is normal for you or I, this is how they support their families.
Some background information on why these sharks are being harvested at such alarming rates. The shark fin trade is huge in Asia. These fishermen make $10 for one kilo of fins, the supplier on sells and makes $180 per kilo of fins, and this one kilo is then on sold again to restaurants for $750! Do the fisherman understand these numbers? Unlikely! They are being cheated out of a decent income for these shark fins and forced into hard labour with weeks away from their families in harsh conditions.
Day Three: Surf, Snorkel and Dive
We boarded two beautiful fishing boats, but today the boats have been chartered for surfing, snorkelling and diving. After a short, scenic ride, we arrived at a private beach. I slipped into the water with my mask and fins, as one of the fishermen, Sam, handed my camera down to me. The water was so flat, calm, crisp and clear that it left me breathless. Amazing.... it was just amazing! I swam for two hours, taking photos of coral and just playing. The fishermen swam with us and rowed mini boats, which were just squares that floated and a little oar to row. Pip and I took one of them to a cave across the other side of the bay.
Everyone was laughing, I really enjoyed the playfulness of the day. It was one of those moments where I looked around and thought, 'This can't be real!' but here I was, experiencing it. One of the fishermen took me and Francesca all around, pushing us across the water on one of the mini make-shift boats. He was so excited to show us around. Another fisherman cooked up fresh tofu and rice and invited me to come eat with them on the back of the boat. It was a day I will never forget!
It was a jarring contrast of life and death. How BEAUTIFUL a tiger shark is alive, free, swimming through the water, compared to one that has been brought up dead, deflated, on the floor of a market for sale. The stripes that once glistened had lost colour, the eye that once watched me so carefully had no life. How can we exploit these highly evolved creatures? A creature so intelligent with so much importance to the ocean. How can we put a higher value on a human life over an animal life? Why do we give more love to dolphins than to sharks? Are we really so consumed by fear and appearance?
The role we play on this earth is of no greater value than that of animals. In fact, it is far more detrimental when you see the cost of our human greed. How can we call ourselves evolved when our actions seem to show we have grown into a monstrously greedy species? Don’t place blame, but look toward the consumers. Look toward yourself. What can you do? What could each of us stand up for?
Even when it feels like there is no hope, remind yourself of the small actions you can take. Huge change can come from little changes made by a lot of people.
This trip gave me the greatest gift: HOPE. I have hope from being part of Project Hiu: Indonesia with Madison Stewart. This project works with shark fisherman to educate them on how to repurpose the use of their boat to bring in sustainable income through tourism, rather than shark fishing.
Her project is an inspiring example of the power of a lot of people collectively deciding to give small amounts towards a worthy cause.
Check her work out @sharkgirlmadison and show your support. Together we can make a difference!
Written by Madison Makoff
Thanks @keonishoots for underwater footage