Conservation online

Miss-information is a very dangerous thing. Without fact, without access to different angles and perspectives, without research to the best of the author’s ability, we are left with a gaping void that can so often be filled with rumors. The Internet can hold an incredible amount of power when it comes to voicing our opinions. But are we forming opinions based on misinformation? And when we do just that our opinions can have the ability to do incredible damage.

Lets look at the example of Chumming. Chumming is essentially when large amounts of rancid, chopped up fish parts and blood are emptied into the ocean water around a boat in order to attract sharks. In SA operators wishing to chum, are issued permits for the use of 25kg of chum per day. There have been other ways developed to not use this method of attracting sharks to boats, but they are as of yet not as effective as the act of chumming.

There is such an incredible debate as to whether or not chumming results in altered behavior of sharks. Even with chumming scientists also have to determine if there are other factors? What about shipping bilge pumps, which can effectively spew out more “chum” like fish waste every day around areas that are also frequented by swimmers and surfers alike? Waste thrown overboard by local fishermen is effectively “chumming” and still others suggested it’s the way we dispose of our waste into the oceans, unfiltered and attractive to all species that might be searching for a source of food. Which one causes more change in the shark’s behavior. ? But there is no long-standing, scientific evidence to say that it definitely does or does not affect sharks behavior because we simply don’t have any concrete research to back either side up.

The unfortunate thing is that we are at best assuming. And we are getting very hot under the collar about these assumptions. An example is Port St John's, which has the title of Most Deadly beach in the World, thanks to its sixth fatal shark attack in just six years, yet no chumming takes place in the area, Port Elizabeth has over the years seen a massive increase in shark chumming by tourism operators, and in full view of crowded beaches packed with surfers and bathers and yet they have not seen an increase in shark attacks. Other areas have. Why?

We need to know, and to do this we need to conduct research. We need this information because we can’t say that chumming does or does not cause altered behavior of sharks if we honestly have no idea where they are. And we also need this information too be accurate and made available to us citizens, so that we can make informed choices as to our safety. Science is sometimes not an exact thing, and it is definitely not always perfect. But research is an incredibly powerful tool that helps us understand our natural world; we need it in every shape or form it comes in.

What we have effectively done online with abusive language is chase away that potential, and we need everyone and every source to make a difference. From the scientists, to the egocentric-film makers, to the documentarians, to the social activist and the conservationists and just the people who care to come together.

Let me clearly say that I am NOT saying a life is worth research, but we also need to examine all avenues before we jump to conclusions and cause even more damage. And we really need more accurate and informed information put out by all these groups otherwise tragedies like we have just experienced will keep occurring and we will keep finger pointing but never actually make any progress or preventing it from happening again.

Do you think we receive correct information from scientists, researchers, the media and government? What do you think we can do to be able to ensure our information is not biased or not based on fact?


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