Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mark Addison speaks up in support of Jim Abernethy

Mark Addison about to attach an acoustic device to a Tiger Shark in Aliwal Shoal

Mark Addison of Blue Wilderness, pioneer of Tiger Shark diving in South Africa, makes a forceful plea for cage-free shark diving in support of Jim Abernethy and other professional shark operators who believe that educated divers who take personal responsibility need not be patronized by some 'well-meaning' Big Brother.

To whom it may concern

The reason for this letter is to place on record my support for Jim Abernethy and the like-minded “cage-less” operators of this world. First and foremost, my sympathies to Mr. Groh’s family and friends on his untimely passing. Secondly, my sympathies to Jim and his team – this is a traumatic time and despite the unnecessary distractions contained in the vitriol of Mr. Neal Watson and his cronies – I wish them well.

I live and work in South Africa. My business has crystallized around “cage-less” shark diving over the last twenty years. My efforts span the entire eastern seaboard of South Africa, which brings me in contact with many wonderful shark species and some fantastic locations and marine settings. My privilege of working with these many species over such a prolonged period of time in no way makes me an expert but I have experienced the gamut of this strange world’s people.

As a pioneer in this field in South Africa I have been accused of many things, as no doubt Jim is being accused of now. As safe as I believe the “cage-less” experience to be and as successful as the experience has been for my clients - I would never consider a cage dive as an option - and yet I am always aware of the potential risk that any client is exposed to in the “cage-less” environment.

I am acutely aware that we have managed all risk out of our lives and to me; “the cage” promotes this soulless experience. The connectivity to nature in a “cage-less” environment is a freedom of individual choice and in the case of many species of shark on our coast, the only way to experience them in their world and on their terms.

This experience is under threat from ill informed opinion and extractive abusers worldwide.
Much of this justification for Jim and his chosen method of working with sharks will probably seem lame to many people but it is what it is. I do not ascribe to the bravado/machismo thing and have used my experience and that of the many thousands of people who have enjoyed South Africa’s shark product with me, to the positive benefit of sharks in South African waters.

I am indeed saddened by the loss of sharks from the coastal waters of South Africa and the world. I use my operations on our coast as an educational platform with the imperative of education through experience. The reality is that too few people care and those that do, like Jim, are faced with the difficult task of creating awareness and affecting change through experience in the face of ever decreasing shark populations.

In my case, I know of many people – both young and old - who were profoundly affected by their “cage-less” interactions with sharks on our coast and who have turned this into a platform for action:
One of many such examples was Dr. Jon Cooper, who donated a very expensive camera system so that each client could go away with a complimentary set of images of themselves with the sharks of Shark Park. The collection of these images of the sharks has been archived for science and forms an integral part of the longest running tiger shark identification database in the world.

Another example is Arthur Limbouris, who owned the Quiksilver brand in South Africa. Arthur sponsored the first acoustic tags for the tiger sharks of Shark Park – a project that now receives phenomenal international funding from the Save Our Seas Foundation. Who would have believed that a surf brand would be at the forefront of shark research and conservation in South Africa?

In a recent case where a fisherman illegally killed three of the tiger sharks at Shark Park on a fateful Friday in February, a feisty servant of the sharks – Wolfgang Leander – stepped up to the plate and created so much international pressure that the government department responsible for South Africa’s Marine Living Resources is actually doing something to protect sharks.

I could go on …

Sharks need us… they don’t need the kind of people that Mr. Neal Watson represents – the cupboard love people, or the self enrichment gurus, the opportunists, or the extractive abusers… they need us. People like you and I, people like Jon Cooper, Arthur Limbouris, Wolfgang Leander… and people like Jim Abernethy.

We are not crackpots, adrenaline junkies or lunatics. We are family men. We are passionate about sharks and their environment. We care!

In the case of the Tiger Sharks of Shark Park I say… “No Bars - Just Stripes”.

Thank you Jim Abernethy for giving sharks a chance!

Kind regards

Mark Addison

Umkomaas / South Africa, March 05, 2008

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