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Richard Peirce


Richard Peirce

Last winter I spent three months travelling in southern Africa and saw, filmed and photographed some amazing wildlife on land and in the sea. Great White sharks, Blacktips, Tiger sharks, Whale sharks, Broadnose Sevengills and others, all provided memorable experiences. However it wasn't until I returned to the UK that I realised that one of the best aspects of the trip was that for three months I wasn't force fed a daily diet of Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Cable etc.

When time permits I start the day watching TV in bed drinking a cup of tea, and in South Africa I often found cartoons. This meant that Cameron, Clegg and Co. were replaced by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other Disney heroes. Not only were they a lot more entertaining but they talked more sense, and in Bugs' case his answer to the world's economic problems of growing more carrots was brilliant in it's originality and simplicity. Looney Tunes were entertaining in South Africa but far more appropriate over here!
In January I became aware of plans to build a nuclear power station at a site in the Western Cape called Bantamsklip. I would rather not have nuclear power generated anywhere, but realise that this option is probably the only realistic answer to mankind's ever increasing demands for energy. The proposed site for a massive 10,000 megawatt power station on the beach at Bantamsklip is only 4.5 miles away across the water from the White shark sanctuary at Dyer Island. No detailed environmental impact studies have examined the effects of the project on local land and marine eco-systems. However, I think its safe to assume that such a massive development would impact negatively on the unique, finely balanced marine and land eco- systems.
Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, is only a few kilometres west of Bantamsklip and it's not only the White sharks that could be affected, it's the harvesting of marine resources, the Dyer Island Nature Reserve, whale and shark eco-tourism, the Agulhas National Park, Southern Right whales and other cetaceans, various bird species, and much of the marine and land flora and fauna within the area.

White shark cage diving has breathed new economic life into this part of South Africa which has guaranteed the sharks a future. Lets hope that the inappropriate siting of a nuclear power station doesn't blow it all apart. It's simple, put it somewhere else, not in one of the world's most vulnerable and valuable wildlife areas. You can join the Save Bantamsklip campaign by e-mailing and giving your name and contact details. At no cost this will register you as a supporter of Save Bantamsklip.

I was lucky enough to dive in Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique, but perhaps the most memorable dive was right on my doorstep, only a hour from Hermanus where I usually stay. This was a dive with Broadnose Sevengill sharks near the Simonstown naval base in False Bay. It was absolutely brass monkey freezing bloody cold, my video camera wouldn't turn on, and my still camera fogged up. Yet it was a magical dive that became even better when my camera cleared and I could photograph the sharks. It's a shallow dive and we were down well over an hour until the possible onset of hypothermia made me reluctantly signal that I wanted to surface.

These guys look a little weird, and in some ways not classically 'sharky'. They have a large upper lobe on their caudal (tail) fin, with their dorsal fins set way back near their tails. They were curious and came very close, often gliding by only inches away from my head. The largest shark I saw was about 2.8 metres, and it's really sad to think of these sharks, which are locally known as 'cow sharks' being killed in large numbers so that their livers can be sold to White shark operators to use as chum!

We got back to the UK in late March and the weather in Cornwall was brilliant which helped soften the blow of returning to real life. I've always wondered what's so great about growing up or being grown up. Certainly three months spent in Africa often feeling and behaving like children knocked spots off being a responsible adult in Britain. My growing up and returning to adulthood was helped by having some really interesting and exciting projects to get on with. My new film 'The Fin Trail' is a feature documentary, which aims to be the hardest hitting conservation promoting film yet made about sharks. The promo is out and can be viewed on the Fin Trail website www.thefintrail.com and we should start shooting in autumn this year with cinema release towards the end of 2012. Please have a look at the promo and if you want to help you can e-mail me at The Fin Trail.
The Underwater Channel
While there is some excellent work being done in this country, in Europe and around the world promoting shark conservation, the truth is that one in six people on this planet is Chinese. As long as the demand for sharks fin soup from China and southeast Asia continues to increase, then shark populations will continue to be unsustainably fished to satisfy the demand. Of course getting Chinese restaurants to stop serving sharks fin soup in Britain is a positive thing to do, but in the overall scheme of things the impact of such actions is negligible.

I have long realised that the battle to save sharks would only eventually be won if things changed in China. If there's a demand, there will always be a supply. Imagine my excitement therefore when I heard that two top legislators from the People's National Congress were proposing laws in China to change things. I managed to contact those proposing the legislation, and also found the Chinese conservationist who had inspired them. The Shark Trust offered all three of them 'Shark Champion' awards which I will present in Beijing in early June on World Environment Day.

The film 'The Fin Trail' will track the trade in fins from all over the world to the markets which consume them. Our film was only ever going to lead to China, and now we have powerful credible Chinese connections. Exciting times, I'll let you know what happens.

Richard Peirce films and books can be bought online through the Shark Conservation Society Shark Shop.
Denney Diving

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