Updated: Aug 4
We are very excited to announce that we are starting a new shark conservation campaign in Mexico. In this article, we would like to share with you the story of the beginning of this project, and the elements that we see as key to its success: cooperation with local fishermen, education, and research. Step by step, we would like to share our journey with you.
We spent a lot of time thinking about how we would like to approach this project. Shark fishing is a complex issue and it is closely connected to the livelihood of the local communities. To make a campaign like this effective, we had to think of an alternative source of income for these fishermen.
Picking the area
The first step was to gather as much information from research as we could. This led our focus to the area of Nayarit, a state in western Mexico on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Nayarit has a breathtaking landscape and the ocean is full of life, but according to the statistics, it is also the state with the highest number of shark fishing in Mexico.
We had to think of an alternative source of income for the fishermen. Without that, we could not ask them to reduce their shark fishing activities. As we already have experience with the tourism industry, that was our first choice. We found out that the ocean in Nayarit is full of life and depending on the season, we could organize trips to see whales, whale sharks, dolphins, rays, and of course, sharks.
Talking to the fishermen
After the research, we decided to visit Nayarit, travel to the fishing towns and villages along Nayarit’s coast, and talk to the local fishermen. That’s how we ended up in the town of San Blas. What caught our attention was a bucket of juvenile hammerhead sharks’ carcasses in the fishing port. As July is a month in which shark fishing is officially banned in this area, we cannot say the fishermen were targeting the sharks. It is as well possible that they were a by-catch of net fishing gear the fishermen are using. The nets are set around a huge mangrove area that is surrounding the fishing port. These mangroves serve as nursing areas for many juvenile species, including the critically endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks.
We knew we needed to see this area from the boat and explore it more. We wanted to talk about the seasons of different animals and the areas in which it is possible to see them. After all, the fishermen are the ones who know the ocean here the best. We were welcomed with a friendly attitude and the fishermen pointed us to Ruben, a fisherman who is also working in tourism.
„To see the juvenile hammerheads was very hard, but the conversations with the fishermen filled me with hope. They are open to change. If we offer them an alternative source of income, they will switch to the tourism activities, as it offers them a source of higher and certain income.“ says Lucia, founder of Blue Religion
Our first idea was to use directly the fishing boats for tourist trips, but we found out that a boat has to have a special permit and it is usually not possible to use the fishing boats for tourism. But captain Ruben and his son offered their boats for the project and Blue Religion will hire the fishermen as crew members for the trips. On each trip, the fishermen will be helping us to find the places for the best animal encounters. They will talk to the customers, and share their knowledge about the area, currents, and behavior of the animals. They have spent their whole lives in the waters surrounding San Blas, and they have a lot of stories and experience to share.
Launching the campaign
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we focus on three elements in this campaign: cooperation with local fishermen, education, and research. In Blue Religion, we see education as the only solid base for long-term change. Part of this campaign is the education of the young generation, explaining the importance of sharks for our oceans in local schools, and kindergartens.
And last, but not least – the research. We started working on our cooperation with the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, offering research positions on the boats for the students to collect data about the shark populations in this area. In the future, hopefully, the collected data could be used as a basis for the official protection of the shark nurseries in this area.
The mission of this campaign is to help shark fishermen make the transition into tourism. Our campaign will bring them the customers and show them how to arrange the eco-ocean safari trips by themselves. Our campaign will help them understand that the value of these animals alive is much higher than the price of their dead bodies.
Eco-tourism is a way to change. First trips in Nayarit will start in October, stay tuned for more information.