Do Malaysians really care about sharks? Outside of Steven Spielberg-made or inspired films, or wedding banquet pièce de résistance (main dish, or, perhaps “I can’t resist this piece”), how do we look at these magnificent creatures?
Apart from encounters shielded by glass thicker than the Great Wall of China, Malaysians’ emotional involvement with sharks has been mostly recreational or gastronomical.
This is very frightening circumstance, not for us, but for the sharks... and ultimately the very ecological cycle of this beautiful planet. Which also means that mankind can and stands a very good chance of going the way of the dinosaurs. This prospect currently looks good.
Malaysia has 63 species of sharks in its waters. Out of these 63 species, only the whale shark is protected under the Fisheries Act 1985. They are top predators that keep ecosystems in balance. They can be found in nearly every marine habitat from mangroves, to coral reefs, to the open seas.
In the recently established Tun Mustapha Park in northern Sabah - where the second largest concentration of coral reefs is found in Malaysia - bamboo shark, black-tip reef shark and other species of reef sharks are local residents, while the whale shark is a frequent visitor to the area.
Worldwide, sharks are meant to be in many places, but there are only few of them left thanks to mankind’s fondness in not seeing them alive. There is no point in pointing out with glee that scientists found a Greenland Shark labeled as the longest living vertebrate. It merely escaped the fin hunters.
Therein lies the threat and we, at World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Malaysia, need your help. We need 1 million pledges before Dec 31, 2016 to save Malaysian sharks!
We appeal to all Malaysians and consumers living in the country to take a stand; be a Shark Hero! Please visit myfinmylife.com and pledge online to say no to shark fin and related products.
Sharks play a very important role. Most species are at the top of the marine food chain. They keep populations of other fish in check and healthy, which helps to stabilise marine ecosystems. Sharks tend to eat efficiently by going after the old, sick or slower fish within the population they prey on. They are considered a keystone species; if sharks are absent, the marine ecosystem may lose its balance.
Unfortunately sharks are under serious threat, due to targeted capture for fins and indirect capture such as fisheries bycatch, which leads to overfishing, a predicament that is leading us to an entirely different level of catastrophe.
Right now, Malaysia is ranked as the world’s 9th largest producer of shark products and 3rd largest importer in volume terms, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (State of the Global Market for Shark Products report, 2015). Not only are we not producing enough sharks, we are importing from other countries to meet domestic consumption. It’s not something to be proud of.
Fin My Life campaign
In order to reverse the present scenario of high shark-fin consumption, WWF-Malaysia and partners - Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor Branch Marine Group, Reef Check Malaysia, Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA), Shark Savers and Scuba Schools International (SSI) - have started the My Fin My Life (MFML) campaign to raise awareness nationwide and reduce shark product consumption among consumers in Penang, Kota Kinabalu and the Klang Valley.
The MFML target is to reach 1 million Malaysians to help WWF and partners to convince businesses, hotels and restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup. To date, we have garnered 20,000 pledges. Look at that number again, we are way far behind!
“We started My Fin My Life campaign in January 2016 with the hope for 1 million pledges saying no to shark fins by July 2016. However, Malaysians seem to be indifferent to the fight to save sharks,” said WWF-Malaysia executive director/CEO Dionysius Sharma.
“Hence, we decided to extend the campaign's deadline until Dec 31, 2016 but individual pledges are still coming in very slowly,” added Sharma.
“The same goes for corporate pledges. We have only 42 companies and 25 hotels and restaurants signed on pledge no to ordering or serving sharks. Our target is for 500 businesses to commit to remove shark fin from their corporate menu or dining policy, and for 20,000 restaurants to phase out shark fin from their menu,” explained Sharma.
Is that too much to ask for? Do Malaysians really care about sharks?