Groups want persons to be fascinated by sharks
Various organisations have joined forces to change the stigma about sharks.
The Sandals Foundation, Georgia Aquarium and the University of the West Indies have partnered to highlight the animals' importance in Jamaica's ecosystem, and motioning for the island to become a shark sanctuary.
Dayne Buddoo, director of global ocean policy at Georgia Aquarium, noted that people pay up to US$250 (approximately $38,500) in different Caribbean countries to dive with sharks.
"They maintain a balance in the ecosystem by taking out other fish that are diseased or dying, so those genes won't go on to the next generation. Therefore what we will have is a more robust fish stock that will boost the economic value. They also maintain a balance in not having a particular species taking over so that allows for reproduction and sustainability," he said.
"We designed this programme to educate and make people aware - fishers, schoolchildren, policy makers, everyone who has anything to do with the ocean. We have to get that stigma removed so that it moves from fear to fascination," he highlighted.
The marine biologist, who is from Jamaica, admitted that his initial beliefs about sharks changed when he started learning about the species.
"Knowing about sharks and being able to identify when they are aggressive, what to do and being able to know the shark more, you can respect the shark. It will take time but it has to be consistent," he said. Buddo said
"Right now because of the laws in Jamaica, we actually protect sharks. The message has to be clear that having more sharks in the wild actually helps our fish stock. You still have to behave the same way you are behaving now when you see a shark, when I see a shark I just grab my camera and take a photo."
Jaedon Lawe, who owns and operates Yardie Divers and Water Sport in Port Royal, teaches scuba diving and takes persons on dive excursions. He said persons are always curious about sharks.
"Because I operate in the early morning period, the first thing people normally ask me is if I'm not afraid of sharks or what do I do when I see sharks. The tagline for this workshop is 'Fear to fascination', and I think that is the exact initiative that we need here in Jamaica to dispel some of the myths about sharks and human interaction with sharks," he said. Lawe said that sharks go where they have food, and because of the state of the fisheries, you will not find them close to our shores.
"But there is a possibility if you are fishing or diving in deeper waters," he said. "Based on what we have learnt today, wherever you encounter sharks you should put some distance between you and the shark, remain calm, and if you are fishing, keep the fish off your person."
The session covered some shark behaviours that persons can use to determine whether the shark is in an aggressive state or not.
"If they are circling you, if their fins are down and have an arch, attacking type of look, that indicates threatening behaviour and you may calmly exit the water," he advised.