Among divers and conservationists, it’s hardly controversial to speak up against the killing of sharks for shark fin soup. Inspiring people like Rob Stewart and the team associated with his acclaimed documentary are among the most visible. New groups like the Shark Safe Network from Florida and others are also making themselves heard, and the swell in interest and commitment is building from around the world.
Recently, just last August, Shark Rescue joined the mounting chorus, a new kid on the block that launched their activities by “drawing a line in the sand from the heart of the shark-fin trade to the [Hong Kong] Government House.” That line in the sand was when Shark Rescue’s founder, Ran Elfassy, submitted his first call to action.
“What people don’t realize,” said Ran as he stepped through the crowds in his shark costume, “is the sheer magnitude of the shark trade. It’s big business with highly-invested interests clinging to keep the business alive and well. But,” continued Ran, “this industry is big money with a side that’s simply impoverishing things for everyone.”
Standing in his silver costume, arms bound to his side as an echo of the millions of shark carcasses discarded by an insatiable trade, Ran eyes the shops behind him, chock-a-block on Des Voeux Road. Each store is packed with burlap bags of fins, each shop a warehouse of expensive and profitable shark cartilage.
“This is it,” he continued, heading towards an establishment called Shark Fin City, “this district is the heart of this unsustainable action.” Hong Kong is undoubtedly the major player in the shark-fin trade, as a 2007 report found that over 55% of the shark fin trade passed through the Chinese metropolis.
Not only is the city a huge consumer of shark fin and other shark products, but the Asian powerhouse is the greatest engine driving the shark trade. “Which is why Shark Rescue was founded,” explained Ran. “I looked at where I was, asking myself what activity would have the greatest strategic impact in marine conservation.
By using sharks as a proxy for marine conservation in such a strategically important place, our mission of bringing real conservation to the world’s seas and oceans has the greatest chance of success.”
Walking from storefront to storefront, pausing in many to raise his silent protest, Ran faced retailers who lacked the values of conservation that would make such a trade impossible. “Although this street is arguably ‘ground zero’ of the shark trade,” mused Ran as he left the district to head for the Government House, “Shark Rescue is not limited to the activities in Hong Kong. Part of our mandate is also to raise awareness that the West is also guilty of decimating sharks.” Ran noted that if shark fin was arguably a cultural practice that Asian cuisine had to drop, so too did the fish-”n-chip shops in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. Too often, the “fish” at the fish-”n-chip shop is flake or so-called reef-cod – AKA shark meat. Then there’s the substantial shark oil and other derivatives for supplements, shark teeth for fashion and more.
As Ran conducted his one-man protest from Des Voeux Road to the government house, he came face to face with Hong Kong office workers, each in their own world and sometimes faced with a man painted and grey, silently reminding anyone who would see him of a grim reality often carried out at sea in the name of a banquet, a festive meal, a celebration.
Walking through down town, Shark Rescue’s spokesman finally alighted at the steps of the Government House, where he submitted the first of Shark Rescue’s many calls to action. At the heart of Shark Rescue’s “fashion with teeth” campaigns is the simple message to the city’s leader: Please do the right thing and lead Hong Kong towards protecting sharks and the health of our oceans.
By Delian Gaskellhttp://www.sharkrescue.com/
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