Cousteau shark advocate

26 January 2011

Pierre-Yves Cousteau spent a week visiting communities in the Bahamas in January, with a two-fold purpose: to spread word of his Cousteau Divers initiative and to bolster efforts to protect sharks in the region.

At the invitation of the Bahamas National Trust and the Pew Environment Group, Pierre-Yves spoke with students, fishermen and conservationists about the importance of sharks to the ecology and economy of the Bahamas, one of the last few areas in the world with healthy shark populations. The lack of a local market for shark meat and a 20-year-old ban on long-line fishing are credited with protecting the fish; in fact, the biggest economic contribution of sharks to the local economy comes in the form of a $78-million recreational diving industry that features swimming with sharks.

The abundance of sharks has led to an emerging impetus to harvest fins for export, a leading cause of the precipitous decline in shark populations worldwide. Anecdotal evidence of the damage that can result came from fishermen who harvested sea cucumbers for the Asian market and realized that this drastically reduced the crawfish population. Similarly, harvesting sharks could impact other commercial fisheries of the region. The Trust has instituted a Shark Campaign that focuses on forestalling any large-scale harvest, sale and export; local consumption, which is minor, killing fish that attack and catch-and-release recreational fishing would still be allowed.

When queried by a Freeport journalist about what he would like to see the government do, Pierre-Yves replied, “I would ask the Prime Minister to move on the new legislation [to establish a shark sanctuary] that is being proposed and make it happen. It’s good for tourism, it’s good for the economy, and, of course, for the commercial fisheries and the environment. When speaking with a fisherman, he will tell you, ‘A place without sharks is a place without fish.’’ Sharks are important for a healthy environment.”

Pierre-Yves had the pleasure of meeting Candice Woon, 12, who overcame her initial fear of sharks by studying them in depth at the Bimini shark research station, one of the best centers for shark science in the world. "The lesson that fear can be overcome by knowledge is beautifully embodied in Candice’s newfound love for these extraordinary animals. To know, to love, to protect as my father coined it." said Pierre-Yves.

Pierre-Yves’s shark advocacy is a continuation of the Cousteau Society’s link between shark preservation and recreational diving in the Red Sea. After noticing that shark poachers avoided areas where divers congregate, the Cousteau team convinced dive operators to begin collecting data for scientists to use in defending protective measures and for conservationists to use in calling for stricter enforcement.

Pierre-Yves’s presentation at a public meeting in Grand Bahama is available at: >>

Video : Pierre Cousteau explains why preserving sharks is essential for the Bahamas >>