Candice Woon feels the dermal denticles of the nurse shark
Grand Bahama Island, The Bahamas - It was July, 2010 and Shark
Week on Discovery Channel was showing gory programmes on endangered
sharks as well as a few science-based documentaries. An impressionable
12 year old student, my daughter Candice Woon was watching many of the
In August we were fortunate
to be able to stay at the lovely eco-resort, Paradise Cove. The
first day we took advantage of many of the amenities, snorkeling, kayaking,
the great food, a great day. On day two, I wanted to snorkel and
kayak again with my daughter. She did not wish to. It turns
out that the night before she had had a nightmare inspired by Discovery
Channel’s Shark Week about the giant extinct megatooth shark called
megalodon. So I told her that I would go snorkeling by myself
but she said no she would come with me to “protect” me.
In the end we snorkeled briefly but did not go kayaking.
After the snorkel while waiting
for the delicious lunch, Candice said, “Mom, I see a fin.” I said,
“ No! really? Where?.” She said, “Yes, right there”,
and pointed. Sure enough there was a small shark slowly meandering
along in shallow water where we had been snorkeling. We approached
one of the guides who told us it was a harmless nurse shark. He
said, “They have tiny teeth.”
That evening when we returned
home to Freeport, Candice was upset thinking that she had disappointed
me. I had hoped since she was 12 now she might be interested in
learning to scuba dive. But I was most upset with the Discovery
Channel and considered writing them a letter telling them how angry
I was with Shark Week frightening children
with gory shark attack programmes.
Meanwhile the Bishop Michael
Eldon School’s Science Fair was approaching in September. Candice
and her teacher, Ms. Ellis agreed that she could do her project on Sharks.
I realized that this could be a “teachable moment” for Candice.
So I emailed my old friend, on Bimini, Dr. Samuel Gruber, world renowned
shark biologist. He consented to have us visit the Bimini Biological
Field Station Sharklab and arranged for the scientists to share their
research experiences with Candice for her Science Project. He
was certain that after time spent at the Sharklab Candice would get
over the phobia she had developed during Shark Week, (my main concern!).
Candice Woon watches juvenile lemon sharks avoiding the humans
We flew in to South Bimini
on October 2nd and headed straight to the “Sharklab.”
We were greeted by Tyler Clavelle, Assistant Manager and Emily Marcus,
Lab Manager. Our adventure with sharks began by Emily showing
us the 3 types of tags, (NOAA dart tags, PIT electronic tags and sonar
tracking tags) used in their research. After that we went with
Emily to the pens in shallow water behind the station where four juvenile
lemon sharks and one juvenile nurse shark were swimming lazily in the
corral . Then Emily caught one little lemon shark and Candice
was allowed to feel its dermal denticles, tiny scales that cover the
skin of all sharks. If you rub your hand in one direction it feels
smooth and in the opposite direction it feels rough like sandpaper or
when you rub crushed velvet the wrong way. Emily demonstrated
how to put the lemon and nurse sharks into tonic immobility a trance-like
state, a method that Dr. Gruber had discovered decades ago. Putting
the shark to sleep like that is very helpful in handling them for research
purposes. Following that Candice put on a face mask and sat in
the pen to watch them gracefully swimming around as they carefully avoided
the humans invading their space.
Candice Woon kicks a shark in the nose with her fin
After lunch with the Sharklab
volunteers, the entire group of young aspiring volunteer-scientists
coming from all over the world got into boats and ran the 3 miles south
to Triangle Rocks for a shark (snorkel) dive with Caribbean reef sharks.
While the boats were being positioned the sharks started arriving in
anticipation of a free lunch. Each person was fitted with a 2
lb weight belt to keep them vertical in the water column. We all
held on to a rope attached to the boat and suspended by a red buoy to
an anchor on the sea floor. We were shoulder to shoulder forming
a human wall. Emily threw chunks of fish from the boat to the
waiting reef sharks. Earlier during our briefing we were
told if we felt a shark was coming too close to simply kick at it with
our fins. Because sharks have very sensitive organs on their snout
called ampullae of Lorenzini as well as the lateral line organ which
can detect vibrations in the water, kicking ones fin toward a shark
tends to surprise and frighten it away.
I was nervous. I had
done scuba shark dives before but in this instance we seemed a lot closer
to the action than I remembered. I kept asking Candice if she
was OK, but I think I was annoying her because she was perfectly fine,
paying attention to the sharks and kicking out when she felt the time
was right. At one point Candice saw a shark that seemed to be
heading toward her and she kicked it in the nose with her fin.
I heard Emily say, “Good one!”
After the sharks had eaten
their fill, the snorkelers left the rope to swim around, take photos
and watch the ones that were still hanging about. We then
moved on to snorkel on a wreck called the Sapona, a concrete streamer
that had run aground in the hurricane of ‘26.
Emily Marcus holds a lemon shark in tonic immobility
The following day Jill Brooks, Assistant Manager, took us back to the pens and allowed us to hold the
sharks while they were asleep in tonic immobility. Candice and
I snorkeled in the pen with the juvenile lemon sharks and nurse shark
then went on to tour the Nature Trail that was created by Grant Johnson
and Katie Grudecki of the Bimini Sands resort. We were amazed
to see lush examples of several healthy habitats. There was a
huge termite nest, many lizards of various species, numerous birds,
and native vegetation.
The highlight of this tour was to see and
handle the endemic and endangered Bimini Boa. It was beautifully
patterned and had an incredible iridescent sheen to it. Grant
has been instrumental in establishing a research project of this species
which is being intensively studied by visiting university scientists.
Thus far over 100 of them have been tagged. Grant explained how
they are beneficial to the environment of Bimini and that one of their
favourite foods is rodents. His efforts include educating residents
of North and South Bimini on the value of this species to Bimini especially
for keeping the rodent populations in check.
After returning home, Candice
prepared her Science Project on the sharks of Bimini and was chosen
to participate in the Bishop Michael Eldon School 2010 Science Fair.
We sent a photo of her hand-sculpted lemon shark (showing exterior of
a lemon shark and interior organs), presentation board and the report
to Dr. Gruber who was so impressed that he sent it to Matt Rand and
Jill Hepp of the Pew Trust’s Global Shark Conservation Group.
Candice Woon at the Bishop Michael Eldon Science Fair with her shark project.
Mr. Rand is interested in the
possibility of using the project in an upcoming educational campaign
as part of an effort to create a national shark sanctuary in The Bahamas.
According to Matt, shark populations are declining worldwide as at least
73 million are killed annually for their fins to be used in Chinese
shark-fin soup. “Because of this outlandish luxury dish these
creatures are being wiped off the planet,” Mr. Rand said.
The Pew Environment Group has
worked with governments around the world and was successful in encouraging
Palau and Maldives to establish the first ever sanctuaries for sharks
in their exclusive 200 mile economic zones.
Recently, James Mackey CEO
of Sunco Wholesale Seafood Ltd. announced in a local daily that he is
planning to expand his sea-cucumber export operation at Mastic Point,
North Andros to include the export of shark fins to Hong Kong.
Considering that The Bahamas is known to support some of the healthiest
populations of sharks in the ocean, conservationists throughout The
Bahamas and around the world reacted strongly and negatively to his
planned taking of fins for export.
Caribbean reef sharks at Triangle Rocks Bimini
The Pew Environment Group,
The Nature Conservancy, BREEF, Friends of the Environment, EARTHCARE,
The Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation Group, the Bahamas Humane Society,
reEarth, Tropic Sea Food, Envirologic Bahamas and the Bahamas National
Trust are working hand in hand to educate the public about the value
of living sharks to the health of reefs and flats and to our tourist-driven
economy. The end result will be a better understanding of the
role sharks play and why it is important to outlaw shark fishing and
support the creation of a shark sanctuary in The Bahamas.
The reason why sharks thrive
in The Bahamas goes way back to 1993 when a 3-day sustained demonstration
organized by EARTHCARE, reEarth and Ocean Watch in Rawson Square in
front of the House of Assembly resulted in commercial long-line fishing
being banned by the then FNM Government. Prior to the ban over
20 long-line boats were going to be brought into the country from Canada.
The first of these, MV Kostakis already targeting sharks for the Asian
sharkfin market was videotaped harvesting sharks at a famous shark dive
site while horrified shark divers watched. The hew and cry from
the Bahamian people had the right effect—long-line fishing was quickly
banned by the government.
The Bahamas has become known
as the “shark diving capital of the world” and attracts visitors
to the tune of $78 million a year. All the afore-named groups
have once again vowed to lobby the government for legislation to protect
sharks, the ocean’s endangered top predator. If The Bahamas
becomes a sanctuary for sharks we will be the third country in the world
and the first in the Atlantic Ocean to make the wise choice that has
eluded so many others. Remember The Bahamas was the first country
to establish a marine park over 50 years ago. It is in this tradition
that we call for a continuation of our pioneer marine conservation ethic
basically invented in The Bahamas.
Candice shows her shark project to Pierre Cousteau during his visit to Grand Bahama to speak on Shark Conservation with the Bahamas National Trust and the PEW Environment Group. L-R: Phyllis Gibson; Gail Woon, Candice Woon, Pierre-Yves Cousteau, Tamica-Rahming, Bahamas National Trust; and Shelley Cant, Bahamas National Trust
SHOW) Cousteau said that one of the highlights of his trip was meeting
young Grand Bahama student Candace Woon. "There were some things about
sharks that I did not know, and she explained them to me."
courtesy of Gail Woon
Pierre Cousteau was so taken with Candice and her in-depth project that he included mention of her when The Bahamas Weekly interviewed him a few days later.
Read that article :
A conversation with Pierre-Yves Cousteau
MORE RELATED ARTICLES:
(VIDEO) Shark Conservation in the Bahamas with the PEW Environment Group
(VIDEO) Bahanmas National Trust pushing for amendment to Fisheries Act and shark conservation
New Legislation Wanted For Shark Protection
Shark dives bite off
$78m tourism spend
(Learn more about Shark Conservation)www.bnt.bs