The Impact of Shark Finning and Shark Fin Soup

"Sharks are among the most perfectly constructed creatures in nature. Some forms have survived for two hundred million years".

  Eugenie Clark

 

 

Millions of bowls of this soup are served each year— not your typical chicken noodle soup or a hearty veggie soup, but rather a historical and cultural delicacy: shark fin soup.

This soup has its prestigious roots in the Ming Dynasty of China. Originally, the soup was served by ancient Chinese emperors to honour guests; the shark fin was thought to have medicinal benefits and the conquering of such a rare “beast” had also symbolized the power and wealth of the emperor. It gained more popularity during the subsequent Chinese dynasties, eventually becoming considered as a tradition in formal banquets and ceremonies.

 

Unfortunately, the production of shark fin soup has proven to be disastrous for shark populations. The process of procuring the fins of sharks for this delicacy— in a practice called shark finning—is a major cause of rapidly plummeting shark populations across the globe. In fact, the population of multiple shark species have been reduced by 80% or more in the past 50 years due to shark finning. Along with other causes, shark finning has contributed to more than 60% of shark species are threatened—the highest proportion among all vertebrate groups.

 

Shark finning is the practice of removing the shark fins after the shark has been caught. Once a shark has been caught, all of the shark’s fins are targeted and sliced off. Shark finning occurs across almost all species of sharks, with the average price of shark fins reaching over $400 US per kilogram. However, the body of the shark itself will only sell for an average of $0.50 US per kilogram— evidently not enough for fishermen to justify keeping the entire shark, causing the overwhelming majority of the sharks to be disposed of back into the ocean. As a result, the shark is left to a slow and painful death. The sharks are unable to swim without its fins and, as a result, cannot absorb adequate amounts oxygen through its gills—a process that occurs mostly as sharks swim. The sharks eventually suffocate or bleed out in the ocean.

 

The cultural significance of shark fin soup had not faded— in fact, demand has only increased across Asia since the Ming Dynasty as more people are becoming financially capable of affording what was once considered as an elite, luxury dish. Across the whole of China, shark fin soup is a staple during formal events and ordered at restaurants as a means to impress dinner guests. Though increased awareness regarding the ethical issues of shark fin soup has surfaced during the past decade, it remains a staple in Chinese culture as a symbol of wealth and generosity. The estimated cost of this industry is more than the global chewing gum industry: upwards of US$1.2 billion.

 

Surveys show that the majority of Chinese do not understand how shark fin soup is made, and many aren’t even aware that the fins come from sharks themselves. “Shark fin soup” is translated to “fish fin soup” in Mandarin and Cantonese, leading many Asians to incorrectly believe that the fins come from common species of fish. Thankfully, recent advertisements in mainland China has contributed to increased awareness of the origins of shark fin soup, leading to a decline in demand in parts of China and Hong Kong in recent years.

Yao Ming, a famous Chinese NBA basketball player, has been credited with changing public perceptions of shark fin soup in mainland China and Hong Kong through his involvement in raising awareness regarding the origins of the shark fin.

One example of how this practice has affected shark populations is seen in the species of oceanic whitetip sharks. The oceanic whitetip shark is one of many shark species that is highly valued in the international shark fin trade, and has been heavily targeted in its local tropical and sub-tropical waters as a result. In its local habitat—usually off-shore, deep-ocean areas—the oceanic whitetip shark is considered the top predator, eating mostly pelagic cephalopods, bony fish, and squid. These sharks have a distinctive pattern of mottled white markings on the tips of their fins, hence why they are called “whitetip” sharks.

Once abundant, the oceanic whitetip shark is currently seeing steep declines in its populations with low likelihoods of recovery. This can be attributed to their low reproductive output and their late age of maturity and reproduction. Oceanic whitetip sharks also swim slowly and near the surface of the ocean, making them prone to becoming caught by fishermen. Their large, distinct fins are also valued highly in the shark fin trade. Just this year, NOAA Fisheries has classified the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Although increased protections have been taking place in recent years across many countries, involving both the catching and distribution of shark fins, shark finning still remains a significant threat to shark populations around the world. The majority of shark fins originates from less economically developed countries, such as Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Indonesia, as well as on the high seas. Little to no enforcement is taking place in such areas, causing most catches to go unmonitored. Many difficulties arise in enforcing sustainable fishing practices in such remote where annual shark catches often exceed 100,000 tonnes, for an estimated total of 100 million sharks killed. This number could potentially be grossly underestimated, as many fins are illegally retrieved and distributed across remote ports with little oversight, therefore remaining unreported in global statistics.

The killing of a shark for shark fin soup differs from the global meat industry in many ways. Most importantly, sharks are an integral part of their ecosystem. As an apex predator, sharks play an important role in regulating population levels of all species in its ecosystem. More specifically, sharks keep the balance in marine populations to maintain species diversity and will remove weak organisms to help with natural selection. Thus, the process of removing sharks for shark fin soup will not only endanger sharks, but also the marine ecosystem of the shark as well. The killing of a shark for its fins is also unnecessarily cruel; an entire organism is killed only for a small segment to be consumed. The shark, a sentient and oftentimes intelligent animal, is left to die a slow, painful death. And, to make matters worse, the actual fin of the shark does not contribute to the taste or consistency of the soup.

Very recently, the demand for shark fin soup has been on the decline in Hong Kong and mainland China as more people are exposed to ethical issues behind the practice of obtaining the shark fin. Yet, the cultural significance of shark fin soup still remains, and, despite the decrease in demand in some parts of Asia, other countries—namely Vietnam and Macau—has seen a surge in demand. Fortunately, younger generations, who have had less exposure to the cultural significance of shark fin soup, are more conscientious of the issues behind the shark fin and place less emphasis on its cultural role. Hopefully, this trend will continue as future generations will take up their parent’s stances—placing more value on the shark, and less value on the outdated cultural tradition of shark fin soup.

 

If you are travelling in Asia, you can contribute to the livelihood of sharks and their native ecosystems by saying “no” to shark fin soup and encouraging others to do so as well. Especially in places such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, where shark fin soup is sold relatively cheaply by local street vendors, it is imperative to discourage the widespread distribution. As people stop supporting these shark fin soup vendors, the demand for shark fin soup will decrease, eventually forcing local vendors to stop selling the product. Despite the current widespread distribution of shark fins, progress is being made as more and more people begin to speak up against the injustice. A change in attitude may just be on the horizon.

 

Posted by: Ning Jiang

 

 

Works Cited:

"Appetite for shark fin soup drives massive shark population decline." University of British Columbia, science.ubc.ca/news/appetite-shark-fin-soup-drives-massive-shark-population-decline.

"The Bitter Truth behind Shark Fin Soup." Bali Animal Welfare Association, bawabali.com/our-programs/responsible-tourism/shark-finning/.

Collins, Nick. "Oceanic whitetip shark: ten facts." The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/8183748/Oceanic-whitetip-shark-ten-facts.html.

Fairclough, Caty. "Shark Finning: Sharks Turned Prey." Smithsonian, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/sharks-rays/shark-finning-sharks-turned-prey.

"I'm Finished with Fins." Shark Savers, WildAid, www.sharksavers.org/en/our-programs/i-m-finished-with-fins/learn-more/shark-fin-soup-harms-our-oceans/.

McCarthy, Joe. "Shark Fin Soup Is Pushing Sharks to Extinction — Yet It’s Still Served." Global Citizen, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/shark-fin-soup-pushing-sharks-extinction/.

"Oceanic whitetip shark." Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Government of Canada, www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/oceanicwhitetipshark-rameur-eng.html.

"Oceanic Whitetip Shark." NOAA Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/oceanic-whitetip-shark.

"Oceanic Whitetip Shark." Oceana, oceana.org/marine-life/sharks-rays/oceanic-whitetip-shark.

"Say #Nosharkfin." World Wildlife Foundation, www.wwf.sg/get_involved/say_no_shark_fin/.

"Shark Finning." AnimalJustice, www.animaljustice.ca/issues/shark-finning.

"Shark finning." Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_finning.

"SHARKS." WildAid, wildaid.org/programs/sharks/.

"What Is Shark Finning?" Stop Shark Finning, www.stopsharkfinning.net/what-is-shark-finning/.

"Why Does Shark Finning Happen?" PADI, www2.padi.com/blog/2017/07/26/why-does-shark-finning-happen/.

Yeung, Karen A. "The Politics of Shark Fin Soup." Paws for Hope, pawsforhope.org/the-politics-of-shark-fin-soup/.

 


Water Quality Elements Project

Water Quality Elements Project

 

 

With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live”  Sylvia Earle

It is difficult to imagine the amount of water that makes up our oceans. Some studies speak of 1,332 million cubic kilometres; however, it is very difficult to know that for sure. What is certain is that the quality of this water has a direct influence on the life quality of its inhabitants.

Innoceana arrived at the coasts of the Gulf of Thailand with a clear idea. We wanted to understand the state of the ocean water by collecting water samples from the surrounding areas of the Island of Koh Tao and analysing them, as well as to try involving more people to continue to do so to create an initial database or "baseline" of the quality of this water. Today, five months later, we have got more than a hundred samples which have been collected from the main diving sites surrounding the island. The analysis of these samples has also allowed us to find two possible “dead zones”. What is more important is that the project has been expanded and today we work alongside different diving centres that have joined our cause. These centres are now buying their own sampling equipment and have begun to analyse the water quality with the purpose of contributing to the database managed by Innoceana and following the methodology that Innoceana created.

There are many parameters that can be measured in water and which are key to the survival of the wonderful living beings that ply the oceans. Temperature, pH, salinity, nitrates, phosphates and oxygen are just some of them. In this blog we are going to try to explain the reason for their importance:

Temperature: Seawater’s temperature (as it happens on land) varies from the equator to the poles where its minima is produced due to solar radiation which has a direct influence on its temperature. The current climate change is generating a dramatic increase in temperatures due to greenhouse gases and the destruction of the ozone layer.

Animal corals are ectothermic, thus leading to them being sensitive to temperature changes. Very low temperatures disable corals from making metabolic reactions necessary for them to survive, however, very high temperatures can also be a threat. When temperatures rise, the coral’s inner body becomes more acidic and toxic to the zooxanthellae, which commence to produce higher amounts of waste in the form of free radicals. The necessity to protect themselves from these free radicals, leave no other alternative to the animal coral but to eject the zooxanthellae in a process called coral bleaching. Bleached corals live only with 5 to 15% of their regular energy levels until environmental conditions return to normal levels and a new zooxanthellae moves into their bodies. However, corals do not often have enough energy to survive this period and die.

Hard corals survive in waters with temperatures ranging from 18 to 36oC, however they are healthiest in temperatures ranging between 22 to 28oC. In temperatures above 30oC, corals struggle to survive and begin to die gradually in most cases. Below 18oC, reef-building corals begin to decline rapidly.

All species of sea turtle are also affected by climate change. An increase in nesting temperature have an impact on sea turtles as they rely on the sand temperature in which the eggs are incubated to determine the gender of the hatchlings. Due to this, 99% of sea hatchlings are turning females resulting in lack of males which in turn affects reproductive rates.

PH: An increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations had led to oceans becoming more acidic, thus, decreasing water pH concentrations from 8.2 to 8.1 units. Studies have shown that corals are more likely to be healthier in seawater with pH levels between 8.0 and 8.3 units, as lowered pH levels lead to reduced calcification rates thus, growth rates. Therefore, pH becomes an indicator of water acidity which can be measured in logarithmic scale bounded between 0 and 14, pH 1 as is the case of hydrochloric acid can kill a human being with a single sip.

Salinity: Corals need salt water in order to survive. They require salinity concentrations in water between 32 to 34ppm as they are highly susceptible to disease leading to rapid coral bleaching in lower salinities which is mainly caused by near river openings, continuous heavy rains, and poor or excessive drainage in coastal areas. Salinity is measured by density or by parts per trillion (ppt) which is usually around 1.023 kg / litre. Salinity also affects other organisms such as fish that use an internal host regulation system. Changes in the salinity not only affect sea life but also produce changes in marine currents.

Nutrients (Nitrates and Phosphates): Coral reefs thrive best in areas with low nutrient levels, also known as oligotrophic waters, due to the fact that nutrient rich waters encourage macro algae growth, which is one of the major threats to corals. Macro algae grow much faster than corals competing with them for space, shading and smothering them. High nutrient concentrations also favour the increase of coral predators such as Drupella snails (Drupella cornus) and Crown of Thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). The major nutrients of concern are compounds of nitrogen and phosphorous such as nitrates (NO-3) and phosphates (PO4) which are present in soil and especially concentrated in human sewage.

When these nutrients reach the sea, a phenomenon called "algae bloom" consisting in an uncontrolled growth of algae occurs resulting in dead zones. To date, Innoceana has located two possible dead zones in the Island of Koh Tao.

O2: Oxygen is fundamental for all life organisms, however, unlike terrestrial species, most underwater creatures use gills to filter dissolved o2 in water. When dissolved o2 levels are too low, underwater breather species must migrate from these areas in order to survive. This is the case of the so-called dead zones. o2 levels below 2 parts per million (ppm) or mg / litre, make survival of most aquatic organisms impossible.

 Source – fondriest.com

 

Turbidity: Turbidity indicates levels of suspended particles in water which can be directly linked to sea currents, to the type of substrate (muddy substrates lead to high turbidity, thus, blocking the entrance of natural light), or to nutrient levels that promote microalgae formation and growth. In the Island of Koh Tao, it is common to see high turbidity levels after rainy days due to the silt and other particles that the rain drags into the sea. Turbidity can be measured vertically from a boat and horizontally underwater, both by using the Secci disk which is obtained as a result of the refraction and diffraction studied centuries ago by Snell. Areas with high turbidity may be unhealthy specially for corals but also areas with very low turbidity may be a symptom of dead zones.

 

Innoceana has designed a low-cost measuring kit (150 euros) which can be used to analyse water quality in a very simple way. In addition to this, we have also designed a system to help every diving centre that would like to participate in the collection of data (There are already 10 centres interested on the project and 3 centres have already bought their measuring kit). This system consists of the following:

  1. Cover Letter (pdf): Koh-Tao-WQA
  2. Protocols (pdf): KTWQ Elements Protocol V3
  3. Contract of commitment (pdf): WQEKT-SOU
  4. Measurement kit: