We can all do our bit and stop trade in endangered sharks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am

A few weeks ago, I spoke at St Paul's Co-educational College on why Hong Kong is the greatest threat to the world's oceans.

I explained that more than one-third of the globe's shark species are threatened and that Hong Kong is leading the way towards their extinction. This isn't an opinion but a fact, since our city sees more than 55 per cent of the shark trade pass through it. I then invited the students to change how they see these animals: sharks are wildlife, not food.

I asked who had consumed shark's fin, and all the hands, mine included, went up.

I also asked who was afraid of sharks and almost as many hands went up.

I pointed out that we often fear the unknown or what we do not understand, and the more we understand something, the more fascinating it becomes.

For example, although some think sharks are bloodthirsty killers, more people die every year from falling coconuts than from sharks.

And that is when I invited them to have the guts to say 'Yes' when something is right, and 'No' when something is not. Especially now, as we attend or plan our holiday banquets, wedding ceremonies and other occasions, let us dare to make a difference.

Given the impact on the world's oceans, the world no longer needs shark's fin soup.

We may want it but none of us needs it, especially since this is so damaging to our future health.

A student pointed out that shark's fin soup is a traditional dish that is part of our culture. Yes, I agreed, but sometimes traditions no longer make sense.

For example, not that long ago, women in Hong Kong and China were second-class citizens, with the tradition of binding their feet. I suggested that we keep the good traditions and drop the bad ones.

I explained to the young men and women at St Paul's that we should not listen to the shark sellers or the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Our government mistakenly hides behind Cites, a guide for the sale of animals, not their protection.

Protecting sharks is not in the sellers' interests. For them and their bank accounts, sharks need to be sold; people need to eat them.

They even publish nonsense about the health benefits of sharks and how we need to fish them or else they will ruin the oceans. Someone should send them back to elementary biology class.

Obviously, it's not that the shark traders are bad people; it's just that they're interested in filling their wallets, not doing what is right.

So what should we do?

Well, as I said to the students, let's dare to make a difference.

At a banquet, wedding or holiday feast, let's say 'No', because sharks are wildlife, not food. We can celebrate without ruining our oceans, without threatening sharks or other endangered wildlife with extinction.

Ran Elfassy, founder, Shark Rescue