Swimmers raise awareness, money to combat shark fin consumption

The Dubai Finathon raised funds to protect sharks and join the fight against slicing off shrk fins and releasing the creatures back into the sea to die.
Swimmers hit the water for the Divers Down Dubai Finathon, a swimming challenge campaign to end shark finning, at Riva Beach Club in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
Swimmers hit the water for the Divers Down Dubai Finathon, a swimming challenge campaign to end shark finning, at Riva Beach Club in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Dozens of participants swam off the Palm Jumeirah beach on Saturday to lend their support to shark conservation efforts and speak out against the consumption of shark fins.

Divers, instructors and families with children joined in the Dubai Finathon to raise funds to protect sharks and join the fight against slicing off shark fins and releasing the creatures back into the sea to die.

“Seeing a shark is a rare sight and they are awesome creatures,” said Matthew Lewin, 15, who swam three kilometres as part of the campaign and last spotted a shark while diving off Fujairah a few months ago.

“It was gliding through and not really bothered about us. Sometimes swimmers are nervous when they see a shark but actually a shark will be more scared of the bubbles (from scuba gear). Events like these can raise awareness about the dangers for sharks and also focus on how global warming is destroying the corals.”

More than 60 swimmers covered a total of 40km on Saturday, with swimmers completing sets of 100-metre stretches or 400-metre laps. Using floats, some toddlers completed the 100-metre stretch with help from their parents.

The Dubai Finathon is part of a global Project Aware campaign to protect the ocean and its inhabitants. “It’s just inhuman to cut off one section of an animal’s body and leave it to die. That is just horrible,” said Jan Krespi, 13, who swam 2.8km.

“The first step is that we have to raise awareness that sharks are not crazy killing machines. I’m a diver, I want the corals to survive and I don’t want another species wiped out.”

Elizabeth Jungnickel said her son, Fredrik, 12, swam 900 metres to help the cause.

“Children must be aware of nature, the sea, the need to help animals and fish so they know there are consequences for the whole world if these are neglected,” she said.

The campaign attracted young supporters such as Lucy Banks, 10, who swam 2.3km and her friend Alice Crowley, also 10, who completed 1.2km.

“We need to make people understand that sharks attack only if you threaten them,” Lucy said.

“Most children are afraid of sharks and we want to work to change their minds,” Alice said.

Conservationists have long criticised the practice of consuming shark fins, usually in a traditional broth in China and other parts of Asia. Dubai is a major re-export centre for the trade.

Of about 500 known species of sharks and rays, 74 are registered as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and at least 20 are found in the region.

In the UAE, sharks cannot be targeted from January until April, as stipulated in limitations issued by the Ministry of Environment on local fishing.

Stuart Martin, general manager of Divers Down UAE, the group that organised Saturday’s awareness drive, said making people aware of the tourism potential would offset attacks against the vulnerable species.

“There is big money involved because a bowl of shark-fin soup can sell for US$100 (Dh367), but we need to help people understand that areas with sharks can be made dive destinations,” he said.

“A reef shark can earn $1 million in its lifetime if protected because people will travel from all over the world to see sharks. It is very important to allow the population to regenerate because sharks give birth every two to three years.”

The group works with schools and runs environmental courses and diving lessons in Dubai, Fujairah and Musandam.

Alex Longley, 13, who swam 2km for charity, has seen first-hand how tourism aids conservation.

“Divers go to the Maldives to dive and see sharks,” he said. “If we help build awareness about snorkelling and diving with sharks and it helps stop the killing, it will be really quite good.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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