Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oahu Shark Diving: Honolulu county council proposes ban

For several months there has been quite a controversy brewing about shark diving operations on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. (See prior post.) Because of a badly bungled attempt by a neophyte to launch a new operation in the southern shore, a grass roots movement grew to have all shark diving outlawed at the island. The two existing operations have been there for many years and have provided safe, responsible shark diving activities several miles offshore for thousands of diving tourists each year.

Patric Douglas of Shark Diver, has blogged extensively on this subject and even traveled to Oahu to meet with Rep. Gene Ward who was, for a time, on the anti-shark diving bandwagon, preparing statewide legislation to ban the activity. But it looks like the Honolulu county council is stepping in to authorize a ban of its own. (See Patric's latest blog.) Maui recently authorized a ban although it was a moot gesture as there are no active shark diving operations on that island. But it did set a precedent and foundation for Honolulu's current action.

Unfortunately, the arguments being used by the Honolulu county council in opposition to shark diving are the same tired - and scientifically disputed - arguments that are often bandied about: the activity threatens others in the water; it is disrupting the sharks normal behavior. On top of that, the ban references Hawaii's cultural history and respect for sharks (there are those who cite Hawaii's cultural history of revering sharks as ocean gods and that feeding them is disrespectful).

But here are the facts:
  • The sharks at the north shore congregate several miles out in an area where crab fishermen dump their bait. The sharks were there before the shark diving operators came and the sharks will be there after they're gone.
  • According to a detailed study from the University of Hawaii, the shark diving activities in the north shore do not pose a threat to swimmers, surfers, or any other coastal water users. They are not attracting the sharks closer to shore.
  • The ordinance ban refers to Hawaii's cultural history regarding sharks (ie: ancient gods, do not feed) and yet no one is taking the crab fishermen to task for their bait dumping which certainly feeds the sharks.
  • The ordinance's "reverence" for sharks is in conflict with Hawaii's known reputation as a processing and commerce center for shark fins. (Ex: I have one can of shark fin soup that I use as a prop in my speaking engagements; it's a product of Thailand, wholesaled in San Francisco, and purchased from a supplier in Hawaii. So, when we complain about the Asian demand, the U.S's hands are not exactly clean.)
Sadly, the proposed ordinance is one based on fear, misinformation or a lack of understanding or accepting the facts, and a manipulation of Hawaii's culture regarding sharks. With a ban in place, will the sharks at the north shore be threatened in any way? Perhaps not, although foreign commercial shark boats operate close by. But definitely thousands of divers will be deprived of seeing and appreciating these animals first hand, becoming ambassadors to the cause of conservation; and Oahu stands to lose important tourist dollars.

If you would like to express your opinions to local Honolulu council officials, Patric has posted their names and contact info.

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