The great thing about Bali is that it is even more beautiful under water than it is on land. The island has a range of underwater ecosystems including coral reefs, mangroves, sand slopes and ship wrecks. Divers can be thrilled with sightings of tiny pygmy seahorses and colourful shrimps, or encounter huge manta rays and the enormous Mola mola which is the worId’s largest bony fish. Many divers hope to see sharks and Bali has areas where that is possible too.
On a recent trip to Nusa Penida island which is just 17km off BaIi’s south east coast I had a great time exploring by motor bike. The sleepy villages and lack of traffic make travel by motorbike a fun way to get around. The huge cliffs and pounding waves on the south of the island contrast with beautiful bays and snorkelling on the west.
My early morning walk in Sampalan village turned from a great stroll along the sea front into a horrible experience as I came across a huge pile of dead sharks. On closer inspection I saw the sharks were thresher sharks which are known for their huge tails and elegant swimming when seen by divers. As I walked further I saw pile after pile of sharks and realised there was a serious fishery targeting the threshers.
Nusa Penida has recently been declared a marine protected area so I decided to collect as much information as possible, in the hope to protect the threshers. My girlfriend and I talked to fisherman and the women working to gut the sharks as well as a group of porters who transport them onto the ferry to Bali.
As we watched the activity we saw that nearly all the sharks were female and pregnant. The sharks were gutted on the beach and the fully formed baby sharks were thrown away on the sand along with the guts.
The fisherman told us that the meat was not good to eat and that they preferred to eat mackerel rather than shark, so nearly all of the sharks were sent to Bali. As well as the female threshers there were a few male threshers and male mako sharks. Makos are said to be the fastest fish in the ocean and can leap to great heights.
That first day we made a count and there were 76 female threshers, 4 male threshers and 5 male mako sharks. The very high percentage of pregnant females was of great concern to us so we decided to document the catch for a few days and interview the fishermen and other people involved.
They told us that every day during the months of September and October they go fishing for sharks as well as mackerel. They estimate that they catch around 70 sharks a day, but some days they catch up to 130. The days we were there we observed that more than 90% are threshers most of them pregnant females. That would mean that about 4500 sharks are killed during the 2 month season. Other boats from Bali and Lombok also fish in the same area catching more sharks. There are also many large fishing boats at Bali’s Benoa fishing harbour which could also be involved in the lucrative trade. The fishermen at Sampalan get paid only 12,500 Rupiah a kilo for the shark meat which is about 1 Euro or 1.4 $ USA! So large sharks of 65kg are killed for 65 Euro or 91$.
The fishing takes place using the small traditional Balinese wooden outrigger boats called jukung. They go out each afternoon into the Lombok strait and set 100m long—lines each with 10 hooks to target the thresher sharks. They return to Nusa Penida at dark and leave their catch on the beach to be cleaned the next morning.
The shark fishing has been going on for the last 10 years. Fisherman talk of the average size of the sharks getting less each year as the tishing pressure increases. We were able to monitor the catch on 30th September, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of October and each day there were about 80 sharks caught and sent to Kusamba port. The sharks arrive at Sampalan by jukung boat, piled in pick—up trucks or balanced on the back of motorbikes. Parts of the beach were awash with blood, guts and baby sharks. Only to be cleaned by the incoming tide.
There are hundreds of tourists that enjoy snorkelling and diving in the rich waters around Nusa Penida every day. During the shark fishing season there are even more tourists than normal as they flock to the island to dive with the ocean giants: manta rays and Mola mola. The mantas are seen close to the surface year round and are also seen by snorkellers. Molas are seasonal and usually only seen on deep dives by experienced divers.
All this tourist activity including large boats carrying hundreds of people to fixed water sport facilities just off the shore of Nusa Penida brings almost no benefit to the people of the island. That is because the trips are organised by companies on the main island of Bali or on the neighbouring island of Nusa Lembongan.
To follow up our research on the 12th of October we decided to go to Kusamba to monitor the shark trade where they arrive by ferry from Nusa Penida. We found 88 sharks almost all female threshers. Porters off load the sharks from the ferry and then ladies carry the sharks balanced on their heads to pick-ups owned by shark traders. We followed a pick—up to a compound nearby. The owner was happy to show us his huge collection of shark products including fins and jaws and how he processed them. He weighed the sharks and cut the fins off. The fins are for export and will end up in shark fin soup. The tasteless fins are seen as a prestigious delicacy by many Chinese people and fetch huge prices. They are eaten mainly at weddings or to impress people at business lunches. This shark fin soup is driving the trade in sharks here in Bali and around the world.
Once in Bali we did some research about thresher sharks and discovered that in the Philippines there is an island called Malapascua which has a dive industry based just on the chance to go diving with thresher sharks. They have a very successful eco-tourism based around sustainable viewing of threshers. We contacted Dr Simon Oliver who is the head of the thresher shark research and conservation group. He was very concerned about the level of thresher fishing here and told us it was almost certainly unsustainable.
Shark fishing versus eco-tourism and shark diving in numbers
ln Indonesia and most countries in the world shark fishing is legal. Throwing the “low value” bodies of the , sharks away at sea is prohibited in many countries but a normal practice in reality.Here in Indonesia with so many poor families ” the meat is not thrown away but it is seen as undesirable and is
often salted and transported to Java and sold for low prices.
Catching thresher sharks has already been banned in many countries of Europe (sadly far too l since their population in parts of the Atlantic is believe have declined 80% and in the Mediterranean 99%).The IU Red List of Threatened Species has Thresher Sharks vulnerable and they need our protection. Thanks to the efforts of Dr Oliver and his team there is already & a successful program to protect the thresher sharks Malapascua in the Philippines. Fishing for thresher sharks has been banned in the whole area. 3 pelagic thresher sharks cleaning stations have been located and they are visited daily by dozens of divers. lt has changed the source of local income on the island from an unsustainable fishery to an eco-diving industry that provides more that 90% of the whole islands income. Dr. Simon and his team has calculated that the Malapascua thresher shark diving industry is worth 60.000.000 USD a year.
Whereas in Bali the sharks are worth a one off payment of 91 USD dead.
Also a report written by Austin Gallagherand Neil Hammerschlag called Global shark currency: the distribution, frequency, and economic value of shark ecotourism calculates that a single reef shark can generate a daily income of 73 USD (26,570 USD a year) on tourism related activities, such as diving and snorkelling.
So if we have 4500 thresher sharks killed each year how much would they be worth alive?
Bali already has around 3 million tourists a year many of who are interested in diving and water sports. Perhaps we can recognise a live shark is worth a lot more to Bali than a dead shark. Increases in the number of high spending dive tourists could bring a long term benefit to many Balinese and boost the islands economy More and more states like Maldives, Fiji, Marshall islands and the Bahamas are declaring their waters shark sanctuaries and as a result are seeing an increase in their number of tourist visitors.
In and around Bali, if we act fast, we can stop the unsustainable killing of thresher sharks before it is really too late. Working together with the communities and fisherman we can find solutions and alternative sources of income. We have to develop educational programs that will teach the new generations the importance of sustainable practices.
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