Runners take their case for shark fin ban to Hong Kong's big marathon

A group of fit activists will take their message about shark fins to this month's marathon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 4:40am

If you're competing in the Standard Chartered marathon this month, you might want to fit in a few more training runs because you may have a pod of very fast sharks on your tail.

This will be the seventh consecutive year a group of elite local runners will run the entire 42-kilometre marathon in full-body shark costumes. "It's not so much the heavy shark head that's the challenge, but how hot and stuffy it gets in here," said Janet Ng Shiaw-hwa, as she wiggled into her suit at a demonstration in Tamar Park in Admiralty.

Ng, a professional trail race organiser, first ran the marathon in 2007 with her husband in matching shark suits they designed themselves. They wanted to find a fun way to raise awareness about the risk of shark extinction. "We didn't expect the suits to turn out to be six feet tall, but they make a bigger impact that way," said Ng's husband, lawyer Steve Brammar.

They not only look like a deadly couple, they are fast. Last year, Ng finished second in her category in a time of three hours and two minutes. Brammar's best time was three hours and 10 minutes.

By 2010, there were eleven sharks in their pod - all experienced runners. They call their campaign Case, for Campaign against Shark Extinction. "I'm running to raise awareness of the fact that if people keep eating shark's fin soup, there'll be no more sharks in the ocean," said member Kenneth Chan Wai-tik.

Momentum and controversy around their cause has been building in the city over the past year. Cathay Pacific announced last September it would stop carrying unsustainably sourced shark products on its cargo flights.

Last month, a coalition of marine conservation groups and high-profile environmentalists wrote to the government calling for a formal ban on serving shark fin at all official functions. The letter, whose signatories include nearly 60 firms and green groups, followed an outcry after images emerged of thousands of shark fins drying on a factory rooftop in Kennedy Town.

Hong Kong is a major hub for the global shark fin industry, supplying half the world's trade each year, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

Local shark fin merchants and traders have struck back, holding several protests in recent months. The chairman of the Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association, Ho Siu-chai, recently accused activists of participating in "anti-Chinese conspiracy led by 'Western' environmental groups".

But Case runners say they are trying to improve public education in a fun and non-judgmental way. "More people just need to know that fins have no taste or nutritional value, and can have high levels of mercury," Ng said. "It's crazy to kill sharks just for their fins."