Diving with sharks is definitely on the list of every diver and I am no exception. Non divers usually freak out just by hearing about sharks thanks to the infamous “Jaws” but we divers know that not only sharks are not dangerous to humans but are extremely important for the health of our oceans.
Why are sharks important for the oceans?
Think of sharks as the doctors of the Ocean who remove the weak and the sick thus keep fish populations healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem,
Sharks are top predators – when they are removed from the ocean the entire eco-system suffers.
Who is more dangerous: sharks or humans?
You see the statistics are that only 10 people die yearly from shark attacks while around 100 million sharks are killed directly or indirectly by humans. The main causes that contribute to a huge decrease in shark population are overfishing, ghost nets, pollution and shark finning.
In my opinion, shark finning is the most horrible and disgusting practice as sharks’ fins are cut off while sharks are still alive and then just tossed back into the water to die slowly. Fins are used for making soup in Asia, China being the biggest buyer in the multi billion dollar industry.
Situation in UAE and GCC
Although UAE has a rich biodiversity, due to coastal construction and overfishing in many areas it is harder and harder to spot sharks. Ten years ago you could have a guaranteed shark dive and now it is much easier to see sharks at a fish market rather than in the sea. Although the are laws protecting certain species of sharks, not all fishermen respect these laws as we can clearly see by visiting a fish market in Abu Dhabi or Dubai on the weekend. Often, fishermen choose a quick profit and care little about the environment.
What can be done to save sharks?
A few scientists like Dr, Sylvia Earle strongly believe that the future of ocean conservation in general and saving sharks in particular lies in natural reservations or “hope spots” as the marine biologist calls them. In UAE there are a few protected areas across the emirates in order to protect and preserve local ecosystems.
Fujairah: Scuba Divers’ Heaven
I have visited the Dibba Rock in Fujairah and it is living proof of what a difference it makes to have a protected area – the reefs were abundant with marine life from small fish and critters all the way to divers’ favorite black tip sharks. On a relaxed shallow dive 6-10 meters it is easy to spot a few graceful black tip sharks that make Fujairah a popular destination among UAE based divers. Contact Freestyle Divers if you’d like to go diving there.
Shark Diving with Shark Education Institute
I had a chance to attend the Shark Diving Workshop run by Fernando Reis from Shark Educational Institute together with Al Mahara Dive Centre. This is a very in-depth workshop on sharks in general with a special focus on Arabian Bamboo Sharks in Abu Dhabi.
Fernando is a dive master and a passionate shark advocate who has been sharing his love with the dive community for many years. He is also doing presentations at UAE schools, discussing the importance of sharks for healthy oceans through fun interactive games and other activities.
The shark diving workshop consists of a theoretical part and four shark dives. Workshop attendants get to know Arabian Bamboo sharks closer and discuss their unique nature and behavior.
Arabian Bamboo Sharks
Arabian bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium arabicum) are a type of carpet sharks that inhabit coral reefs or shallow coral habitats in the Arabian Gulf. They have slender brown bodies, two dorsal fins with straight trailing margins and the second smaller but longer-based than the first. IUCN has assessed them to be Nearly Threatened due to overfishing as by-catch.
Theory brought many new shark facts to our attention but the dives are what make the workshop super fun.
Each diver gets a measuring stick (made with love by Fernando himself) that is 40 cm long in order to note the size of a shark in front of them. The next step is to identify the gender of the shark.
The trick is not only to spot the shark but also to observe it without interfering. Sharks are very shy animals by nature and are not super excited to be in the spotlight of the divers’ cameras. This is why it is important both to understand their behavior and respect their space and refrain from touching, pulling or poking them with cameras or sticks.
We protect what we love
Becoming so close to bamboo sharks has definitely touched every diver on a very personal level. Such graceful animals, today they need our protection more than ever and if you want to learn more about sharks, join the shark diving workshop or go on a shark dive, do not hesitate to get in touch with Shark Education Institute or Al Mahara Dive Centre.