On the 14th of November I had the privilege of joining WildTeam on an expedition to Cox’s Bazaar. For the first time in its history, the volunteers were going to go out into the ocean to try and find live sharks! With the support of WildTeam’s Chairman, these individuals made regular visits to the landing sites, and seen first hand the sheer number of dead sharks that are brought back onto land. Now the goal was to try and find them, for the first time, alive in the water.
The team was on a boat for two days to try and document live sharks. On the boat I taught the team how to chum. Chumming is when bits of fish are cut up and thrown in the water, along with as much of their blood as possible. The goal is to create a ‘chum slick’ that attracts the sharks and brings them close to the boat. The team was extremely eager and did not mind the blood and guts in order to try and get some sharks near us!
However, we didn’t have any sharks come by. Even more worrying, we didn’t get ANY marine life attracted to the chum. In my work with sharks there has NEVER been a scenario where NO marine life has been attracted to the bait. When this happens, the main worry is that nothing is showing up because not much is in the water. If this were true than that is mainly due to the fact that the fish have been overfished from the area. Sadly, our concerns were validated when we spoke to the fishermen. Bangladesh faces a serious crisis from this situation.
I had spent a month in a small city in Mozambique that had gone through similar problems. However, before it got this bad the fishermen proactively sought out NGO’s who helped bring proposals to the government to ban fishing in the area. Imagine that! The fishermen, who’s livelihood is dependant on the ocean are the ones asking to ban fishing! If there is anyone who would know how bad the depletion of fish populations is in the area, the fishermen would be it.
Like the fishermen in Mozambique, even the local fishermen in Cox’s Bazaar were saying to ban fishing! Except, sadly there is no one they can communicate this to. There are very few outlets for these fishermen to reach out to. They also alluded to local politicians being heavily invested in the fishing industry, often flouting rules that the others are expected to follow. This situation of a lack of fish has led to fishermen going out with HUGE nets and catching EVERYTHING still left in the ocean. Often that involves younger fish and sharks that they wouldn’t have targeted in the first place.
This was all upsetting to hear, especially after our visit to the landing site. It was truly an eye opening experience. Hundreds and hundreds of dead sharks everywhere. On a bad day (such as this day) they ‘only’ catch 5000 sharks. That is an alarmingly high number that begs the question, how many do they catch on a good day? I have never seen that many dead sharks in my life.
Every shark that was caught was a juvenile. Sharks take much longer than other marine species to age and reproduce, and what is happening in Cox’s Bazaar means that within a very short time, the whole shark population will collapse. And once that happens it will not take long for the ocean ecosystem to collapse on itself. We get over 60 % of our oxygen from the ocean. Bangladesh faces a serious need for awareness in this field before it is too late. Drastic measures need to happen quickly, and it will take passionate people to constantly raise their voice till they are heard. WildTeam has taken great initiative and hopefully their actions will help spur more action.
I hope to be back in Bangladesh in the near future to try and help in my capacity. We need as many people to speak out as possible! If you are interested in helping in any way, please do not hesitate to look up WildTeam. Additionally, I am active on social media (my Facebook and Instagram are both hamdanchowdhury), and I will happily answer any and all questions you might have!