From the Cayman Islands to the Treasured Islands
The 110 foot ex-US coast guard vessel is the newest of the Sea Shepherd fleet. For her latest role as an anti-poaching patrol boat, she has been renamed the John Paul DeJoria after the philanthropist entrepreneur and avid ocean conservation supporter. The vessel’s launch went down in history as the first ever ship to be sent to sea by having a bottle of tequila smashed against it, the significance being the Patron company is one of her namesakes many business interests.
My opportunity to meet with the crew arose when storms and heavy seas forced them to duck into Grand Cayman for cover. According to the ship’s bosun Davey Jones “Our plan was to pick up some crew members then pass through the Panama Canal where our campaign will begin. We swung into the Caymans to wait out the storm, catch up on some maintenance, get some rest time and re-stock some supplies.”
Mr Jones is one of three divers in the team who will eventually be assisting the underwater production work for a documentary about shark finning. Second engineer and fellow diver Mirko De Luca explained “We are going to be doing quite a bit of filming and photography work to create a documentary in honour of Rob Stewart.”
I must admit that as I was shown around the ship’s various decks I was excited to be on a vessel owned by Sea Shepherd. I have avidly followed their endeavours of direct action against illegal poachers around the world in the press and on shows like Whale Wars. It was truly humbling to be in such close contact with a living breathing part of the story.
As I was given the tour of the vessel, Mr Jones continued to talk about their forthcoming activities in Central America “When we get to our various destinations, we want to work with the fishers there. There are areas where laws protect the region but for whatever reason, rangers can’t get out and physically police their waters. There are large and well established marine parks that are protected areas where poachers are now getting really brazen and just sneaking in and dropping long lines.”
As I started to understand more about how the next couple of months would unfold, I wondered if the ship would be involved with the kind of direct action that found Paul Watson and his crew targeted by the Costa Rican government 10 years ago, Mr Jones clarified “We want to make connections with the authorities there to see if we can work together. If there’s a chance to work together then that would be perfect.”
The hope is to build relations in the area to bolster the efforts against finning. Throughout the voyage the crew intends to build a clearer picture of how illegal poaching has manifested and at the same time assist island communities in protecting their waters. Their involvement is not by any means limited to gathering information on long line fishing. Amongst other activities, the crew will be involved with is the removal of ghost nets in the area that are responsible for heavy loss of fragile marine life.
As the John Paul DeJoria enjoyed the sanctuary of the Islands’ main harbour and the Georgetown Yacht Club, her crew took the opportunity to spread the message of what their organisation is all about. During the following weeks, crew members donated time to local charities like the Humane Society and the Blue Iguana Recovery Project as well as hosting talks to school groups both in their classrooms and aboard the John Paul DeJoria. Throughout this period, they tirelessly welcomed the general public aboard to provide tours of the ship and talk to them about their life as part of the Sea Shepherd.
During the three week pit stop on the island, Mr De Luca was able to find the time to squeeze a dive in off Seven Mile Beach. With my personal interests in the underwater world, I was curious to hear his opinion of the local diving, Mr De Luca said “Of course the visibility is amazing but it is sad to see so little life underwater. There should be so many more fish and sharks but sadly there are much less due to overfishing.” It would seem that even the world’s most premier dive locations are not excluded from the negative effects of modern life, an observation that gives greater validity to the efforts of organisations like Sea Shepherd.
The arrival of the environmental activists and their colourful ship in Georgetown Port immediately caused quite a stir on Grand Cayman. Thankfully, the public reaction to Sea Shepherd’s work appeared to be supportive which was evidenced by the swarms of people that visited the vessel with gifts and good wishes.
It should not come as a surprise that a small island which up until recently relied on its surrounding seas to survive will sympathise with the mission of Sea Shepherd. Established responsible fishing communities know more than most about how their catch decreases from generation to generation. The problem with the finning trade however is not as much about awareness as the money that is involved in it. Even though progress has been made since the release of Sharkwater, shark fin soup remains a delicacy in the Asian market that fetches over $100US per bowl. It is the disproportionate value of the fins that has resulted in a practise where fishermen catch the shark, remove its fins while it is still alive then throw the “worthless” creature back into the ocean to sink to a slow and agonising death.
As the John Paul DeJoria waved goodbye to the Cayman Islands I couldn’t help wonder what she will face in the coming months. In spite of the fact that the Sea Shepherd have been invited to the region to assist the protection of their waters, the reaction to their presence on the ground has yet to be seen. The world now waits to hear what has become of the shark populations in the treasured islands. At the same time we wait to hear of the lives that will be saved by the removal of ghost nets and other direct acts of ocean conservationism. The story of shark finning in Central America has reached an interesting point in time, while wishing the best of luck to Sea Shepherd, we now wait with eager anticipation to see what the next chapter has in store.
About the Author: Drew McArthur is a professional dive instructor and boat captain currently working at Divetech on Grand Cayman. Since his first dive over 20 years ago, he has found himself in all kinds of underwater environments from golf ponds on the side of a snowy Welsh mountain to the tropical paradise he has now become accustomed to. A fanatic of all things tech, one of the main things Drew loves about Grand Cayman is the accessibility of such premier dive sites. Check out Drew’s blog here.