Jaws

“Sharks are dull and vapid animals that, if they didn’t bite people, there wouldn’t be any attention on them; they think with their mouths, they do not think with their brains.”

It is tough to comprehend the fear that the word sharks still instill in people and the level of ignorance (from Latin not to know, to be unacquainted; mistake, misunderstand) that surrounds them.

I read the sentence in a Tweet no more than a month ago; I attempted to explain how there are so many different sharks species and intelligent creatures with memory retention; the reaction was to block me.

It was an inexorable reaction to the possibility that the person’s knowledge about sharks was incorrect.

Sharks start with a noticeable disadvantage already in their name.

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Problem in Paradise: How Plastics are threatening the marine world in the Caribbean

For decades, the Caribbean islands, have been a popular mecca for its warm, glistening sun, vibrant culture, breath-taking underwater world and beautiful beaches. Whether it be swimming with the pigs in Exuma (Bahamas) , enjoying the grandeur of the resorts in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) , strolling along the white-sand beaches of Negril/ rafting on the Rio Grande(Jamaica) or scuba diving in the pristine waters of Bonaire, the marine world has offered enjoyment to millions of visitors annually. Most importantly for us as islanders, it’s been our “bread and butter”—our main source of income (accounting for 18% of our Caribbean GDP[1]) in many aspects: tourism, shipping and logistics, fisheries and oil and gas production. Unfortunately, our precious Blue Economy is under threat in so many ways; with warmer and rising seas, destruction of mangrove forests for coastal development, overfishing, oil spills, dynamiting coral reefs and more frequent and more intense hurricanes and storms, the vibrance of our underwater world is growing dim. Even more so, there lurks the danger of a silent killer that is severely polluting our coasts and Caribbean Sea—plastic. 

Plastics may seem paradoxical to many of us now in light of their negative environmental impact but I would care for a second just to share the pivotal breakthroughs they had made in their earliest years (the late 19th and early 20th century). Celluloid, invented in 1870 (by John Wesley Hyatt), rescued the limping population of elephants remaining during the ivory trade of the 1860’s to become the substrate for manufacturing billiard balls and film for motion pictures[2].  With the accidental synthesis of polyethylene in 1933, came the development of the plastic bag in 1959, resting on its intent to redeem the need for deforestation to produce paper bags[2]. Fast forward to the present-day, where, over an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic have been produced since, and of this, nearly 80% of this ends up in landfills, in the natural landscapes and in our oceans and seas[3]. 

Many marine animals have died as a result of plastic ingestion or entrapment. Many beaches worldwide have also lost their appeal as the sand is quickly being outnumbered by plastic items and other garbage. Remote places like the Artic circle, the Cocos Islands and Antarctica are being found to be barraged by plastic!  Marine plastic pollution is a global issue and our Caribbean waters are not exempt. Plastic bottles, bags, toys, take away food containers and many others have been recovered from our beaches, estuaries, mangrove forests, coral reefs and the ocean floor too. In Ocean Conservancy’s 2020 report of the 2019 International Coastal Clean Up Day [4], nearly 21 million pounds (9.4 million kg) of waste was recovered on that day alone. In Jamaica, my home, 146,473[4] pounds of waste were recovered but this merely scratches the surface of what remains.  Recovery of plastics from our marine environment is challenging, especially in developing countries with limited physical and financial resources for even the development of robust waste management.  

HOW DO PLASTICS GET THERE?

The journey begins the moment someone throws their empty potato chips bag out of the car window or throws their empty soda bottle on the street. With the help of the wind and rain, they travel through the storm drains that lead right to the sea. According to a World Bank report, 80% of marine plastic pollution in the Caribbean region comes from land-based sources[5]! The 20% coming from sea-based sources also begin and end with the key culprit here—us; humans. Just stop for a minute and think about living a day without using any plastic item. For many of us, it seems next to impossible (although many have successfully achieved plastic-free living).   Since its development in the 1950’s, plastic has allowed for the invention of so many revolutionary products that make life simpler and more efficient. However, whether because of carelessness, ignorance or limited resources for proper waste management, plastic pollution has now escaped our control. So much plastic has been generated that we’ve not designed the proper infrastructure to upcycle, recycle or repurpose it. Because of this, plastic items find its way to our Caribbean Sea by: 

  • Intentional dumping of garbage in rivers or gullies
  • Direct dumping in the sea
  • Channelled along storm drains from urban areas to the sea
  • Airborne plastic particles
  • Sewage water disposed in the sea
  • From shipping activities
  • Loss of nets during fishing or intentional disposal at sea

 

WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THAT PLASTIC?— MORE PROBLEMS AND MICROPLASTICS

Plastics have been designed to be highly durable and are not biodegradable materials and they, therefore, do not safely incorporate themselves back into nature. They remain in the environment for decades and deplete the health of the thriving species of plants, animals and microorganisms. With the action of waves, plastic litter gets dispersed from nearshore to the open sea and right throughout the water column: some lighter items may stay near the surface and others that are denser sink deeper into the sea, tainting seagrass beds and coral reefs. Many sea turtles have come to their demise after mistaking a plastic bag for a jellyfish or getting stuck in the ring of a six-pack. A popular, but heartbreaking, video even surfaced some time in 2017 of a straw being removed from the nose of a turtle. In other cases, whales and birds have been found dead and their stomach contents full of plastic. Here are some real examples from the Caribbean of plastic pollution and its far-reaching impacts:

In 2019, in the beautiful Bahamas, Cristina, along with Kewin Lorenzen, found trails of litter and a huge sheet of plastic during an exploration dive of the bottom of a blue hole in Grand Bahama! How did that even get there? Dynamics of tides cause “syphon(suck water in) or spring(push water out) [of water] on rotation every six hours during the day for a total of four times a day”, Lorenzen reported to Newsflare[6].  This is possibly one of the first recorded evidence of plastic pollution in the remotest parts of a Caribbean island. 

Refuge Cay, a mangrove island in (in the Port Royal Mangroves) Jamaica was recently rescued through a labour-intensive restoration project (project launched in 2018) after suffocating from years of a continuous build-up of plastic and other marine litter. Before the rehab, there was significant loss of a number of trees in the heart of the forest because the root network was greatly trapped by the plethora of plastic that came adrift. Water could no longer flow through the cay and thus, it became stagnant and was becoming anoxic.  Forest regeneration was therefore, greatly affected as seedlings had no floor to take root. These mangroves are important nesting areas for migratory birds and spawning of various species of commercially important fish. Additionally, they are terrific structures that guard against storm surge during hurricanes. 

An Instagram post by Joey Brown, environmentalist and Hope Zoo curator in Jamaica revealed the harrowing post-mortem of a dead crocodile that was discovered by the local environmental authorities. He that over 22 plastic bags were found in the stomach of the semiaquatic reptile! 22 plastic bags! With that number, it is very likely that the crocodile may have fed much less than its normal appetite as those bags would have made him feel full for a very long while until his nutrition deteriorated and other complications developed. 

Since plastics don’t break down or degrade, they disintegrate and break up into smaller pieces over time called microplastics. Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5mm in size and come from primary and secondary sources. 

Microplastics from a water sample collected in Kingston Harbour.

Primary microplastics are deliberately made at these sizes and are used in cosmetics like facial cleansers (This has now been banned in many countries), laundry soaps or used in industrial synthetic sand blasting. Secondary microplastics are smaller plastic pieces that broke off from larger plastic items during their journey to sea, constant battering by the waves and weathered by the UV light of the sun. Here are a few snapshots of microplastic reports in the Caribbean:

After great curiosity of the impacts of marine litter in Jamaica’s Kingston Harbour, myself and marine biologist, Professor Mona Webber, investigated the incidences of microplastic contamination and its potential impact on the ecosystem of the Port Royal Mangroves, located in the Harbour. Throughout the four sampling stations, we found 0-5.73 particles/m3, with 24% having similar sizes to many common species of zooplankton, and polyethylene dominating the microplastics found (78%)[7]. The mangroves are situated in the southern coast of the Harbour and it unfortunately receives much of the litter flowing from the north, where many industries, commercial areas and residential areas are situated. With a thriving spawning ground and oyster haven that is the bedrock of a lively artisanal and commercial fishery, plastics and microplastics are a great stressor to the continuity of these species of fish and shellfish, and a threat to the sustainability of these livelihoods. 

Microplastic contamination has also been reported along the beaches of the Lesser Antilles from a study led by Professor Thijs Bosker, finding a maximum of 620±96 kg/dry sand[8] on Grandes Cayes, Saint Martin. 

In Grenada, researchers found microplastics in the guts of 34 different fish[9] harvested from the Grenadian waters. 

With smaller sizes, plastics become more readily available (bioavailable) to a wider range of marine organisms and become great stressors to the health of these creatures. Not only are plastics similar sizes to zooplankton, but researchers have reported the ingestion of microbeads(at sizes of 1.7-30.6µm)  by zooplankton, which are a source of food for many foraging fish[10]. For a long while, scientists have evidenced this appeal as consequent to an olfactory response to dimethylsulfide, a chemical released by algae that have made these microplastics their home[11]. Pretty much, these microplastics smell like food and unfortunately, get eaten. 

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?—IS IT TOO LATE?

The global scientific community has been abuzz with hundreds of journal articles documenting the effects of plastics and microplastics in different geographical locations and a dynamic range of ecosystems. Additionally, there have been great developments in techniques used to sample for microplastics and in the application of geospatial technologies to identify hotspots of plastic pollution with the use of satellites. Most importantly, researchers like Dr. Chelsea Rochman, have been conducting metabolic studies to assess the impacts of the physical and chemical nature of consumed plastic and are providing guidance to the fisheries. This is essential to us especially as we are the final consumers in this marine food chain. A 2011 study revealed that, globally, 143.8 million tonnes of seafood is consumed annually, and this is a key staple for many of those in poor communities[12]. So, you see, everything begins and ends with us. Our very source food is now tainted with plastics, and still, there remains a very wide gap in knowledge about its impact to our health. 

In the region, though marine litter still remains an under-investigated issue in the Caribbean, we are uniting, through the Caribbean node of the Global Partnership for Marine Litter (GPML-Caribe). It is the collaborative effort of providing leadership, information, and resources in the efforts to reduce marine litter in the Caribbean Sea. 

Many private sector companies in Jamaica, like Grace Kennedy and the Kingston Freeport terminal are making major contributions to projects that seek to rehabilitate severely polluted areas like the Kingston Harbour. Just in 2019, Grace Kennedy hosted a public lecture entitled “Clean Kingston Harbour: Pipe Dream or Pot of Gold?”, where panellists Professor Mona Webber (head of the Centre for Marine Sciences, UWI), Dr. Wayne Henry (Chairman and Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica) and Tijani Christian (current Chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council) facilitated discussions with the members of the public on the importance and relevance of cleaning the harbour and caring for our environment.  

Caribbean governments have also taken up the mantle to hold their citizens accountable for reducing their usage of single-use plastic items. So far, 15 countries have implemented a ban on the use of plastic straws, plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam take-away food containers. Some are still in the process of developing the legislation but this is a move in the right direction. Here is an interactive map from the UN Environment Caribbean Environment Programme showing the status of bans in the Caribbean. 

Are we acting too late on the issue of marine litter? Have we passed the turning point? Absolutely not! While we may have lost the handle on what cannot be removed from benthic and remote marine environments, the clean-up efforts have certainly been breathing new life into, once, suffering habitats. After the painstaking exercise of removing truck loads of garbage from Refuge Cay, the forest is coming alive again with new seedlings of mangroves thriving! Citizen-science and volunteerism for clean-ups definitely have some importance in raising awareness and influencing thought on changing behaviour and being more mindful of the environment.

Citizens on all levels, whether in civil, government or private-sector organizations all have a duty and responsibility to take action against marine litter. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Join a clean up

Annually, on the third Saturday of September, hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide devote time to cleaning up beaches, coral reefs and their general environment on International Coastal Clean-Up Day. It has certainly helped to raise awareness on the marine litter issue and reduced the amount of plastic in the environment. There are many organizations in your local area that you can volunteer with. Check out the list of organizations on page 22 of the ICC 2020 report. 

Reduce your use

It can be quite difficult totally eliminate plastic from our daily lives, but it is very possible to REDUCE our use of plastics. When you go grocery shopping, take a reusable shopping bag with you. Did you know that you would spend more long-term buying bottled water than if you were to have a water filtration jug or tap attachment? In that way, you can reduce the number of plastic bottles that you discard and also save some money! But, if you must, think of RECYCLING them if you have access to a recycling system from your local authority.  If you are a lover of smoothies like me, you may go through quite a bit of straws. However, it’s pretty easy and affordable to get a stainless steel straw that can be used for a very long time. 

We all lead very busy lives and at times, cooking at home is just not possible. When you buy take-out, you can order larger portions that can last a few more days, and that way, you can save money on delivery/your own gas, and reduce the plastic containers that you get with your order.

REUSING your plastic items can also keep your plastic disposal low. Take-out containers can be reused for food storage. Larger plastic bottles can be used as a plant pot if you love gardening—and don’t worry, a little paint job can upcycle your old bottle and give it a great look fitting right into your colour scheme.

UPCYCLE! People have been finding very unique ways of making plastic waste useful again. Tires can be converted to a nice flower bed in your garden. In Columbia, building bricks have been made from plastic waste and are now being used to construct homes for many homeless persons. In Jamaica, entrepreneur Scheed Cole has used styrofoam and plastic waste to manufacture many beautifully-designed pots, sculptures and recycle bins through his company 360Recycle.

In reality though, many of our Caribbean nations are Small Island Developing States, with limited financial resources for a robust municipal waste management system. So, unfortunately, many persons will still, mindlessly, resort to dumping their garbage out of sight in the seas, the bushes or in the gullies. Even so, there are even more limited resources for extensive clean-up activities. Legislations must therefore, be robust and thorough on ensuring that plastic alternatives are affordable and easily accessible to the population, sanctions are issued swiftly and the effectiveness of these are constantly measured and reviewed. 

On the cusp of the decade to the strive for achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, we especially recognize Goal #6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal #13 (Climate Action) and #14 (Life Below Water) in light of the marine litter issue. However, all 17 goals are still quite relevant to the context of marine litter. 

Stay mindful of how your activities affect the health of our natural environment. Humans and nature are inter-connected and in turn, nature in poor health means a poor quality of life for us too. There is still hope aplenty for our Caribbean marine world and we all have a part to play in ensuring that we keep our environment clean. 

By: Deanna Rose

Resources:

  1. Development of National Statistics Related to the Ocean Economy in Grenada and CARICOM SIDS

Presentation at the CARICOM Regional Workshop on Environment Statistics and Climate Change Statistics, Grenada, 2019.

https://unstats.un.org/unsd/envstats/meetings/2019-Caricom%20Region/documents/Session%203.3.3%20CSO%20Grenada%20-%20Development%20of%20National%20Statistics%20on%20Ocean%20Economy%20in%20Grenada.pdf

  1. American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks. Bakelite: The World’s First Synthetic Plastic.

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/bakelite.html

  1. Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Plastics. Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances,3,e1700782

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782

  1. Together We are Team Ocean: 2020 International Coastal Clean-up Day Report, Ocean Conservancy. 

https://oceanconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2020-Report_-FINAL.pdf

  1. Diez, S.M., Patil, P.G., Morton, J., Rodriguez, D.J., Vanzella, A., Robin, D.V., Maes, T., Corbin, C. (2019). Marine Pollution in the Caribbean: Not a Minute to Waste. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. 

http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/482391554225185720/pdf/Marine-Pollution-in-the-Caribbean-Not-a-Minute-to-Waste.pdf 

  1. August 16, 2019. Scuba divers find huge sheet of plastic floating in cave system off the Bahamas, Newsflare, 

https://www.newsflare.com/video/312099/weather-nature/scuba-divers-find-huge-sheet-of-plastic-floating-in-cave-system-off-the-bahamas. 

  1. Rose, Deanna; Webber, Mona K. 2019. Characterization of microplastics in the surface waters of Kingston Harbour, Science of the Total Environment, 664, 753-760. 
  1. Bosker, Thijs; Guaita, Lucia; Behrens, Paul, 2018. Microplastic pollution on Caribbean beaches in the Lesser Antilles, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 133, 442-447.
  1. Taylor, Michelle E. ; Morrall, Clare E. 2018. Microplastics in Fish from Grenada, West Indies: Problems and Opportunities, World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology International Journal of Marine and Environmental Sciences, 12(6). 
  1. Cole, Matthew, Lindeque, Pennie, Fileman, Elaine, Halsband, Claudia, Goodhead, Rhys, Moger, Julian, Galloway, Tamara S. 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 6646−6655. dx.doi.org/10.1021/es400663f. 
  1. Savoca, Matthew S., Tyson, Chris W., McGill, Michael, Slager, Christina J. 2017. Odours from marine plastic debris induce food search behaviours in a forage fish, Proc. R. Soc. B., 28420171000 http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1000
  1. How much fish do we consume? First global seafood consumption footprint published.

Obtained from The European Commission’s science and knowledge service

https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/how-much-fish-do-we-consume-first-global-seafood-consumption-footprint-published#:~:text=According%20to%20calculations%20using%20baseline,seafood%2C%20is%20154%20million%20tonnes.

What do you do with a chance?

This is not my story. This is the story of someone else I have been fortunate enough to be a witness. It is worth sharing and shows us that our desires as a driving force bring impressive results. 

I want to share this story to inspire younger people into taking chances and sticking with their decisions.

This is the story of my teammate, friend, and an overall great person, Kewin Lorenzen.

Kewin contacted me after conducting some research online about completing his cave diver and technical gas training together with a five-day shark course back in August 2017. He arrived on the island to start a month-long work on January 1st, 2018. 

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When are you going to get a real job?

“I am worried about the fact that my daughter has decided to be just a diving instructor and throw away all her education”…the words fly out of the mother’s mouth, the emphasis on the “just” before she can even think about the whole meaning of them. I smile gently, she blinks and mumbles a couple of excuses “I am sorry, I didn’t mean that it’s not a good job, of course, look at what you are and have done…” the rest of the sentence dies on her lips as I assure her that I totally understand her point of view.

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Under The Magnifying Lens

Many years ago, I was fixing a mooring line and noticed three hairy little bodies hanging tight around a small piece of coral. I had never seen this creature before, never mind a cluster of them.

Little did I know I had found something that scientists had not yet identified. Only years later, they appeared listed as the Caribbean Sea Spiders, eight-legged animals in bright yellow and blue stripes. People still considered seeing them a rare occurrence. In total, I have spotted them four times.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

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Size doesn’t matter, or does it?

I started to work with sharks in 1995 and put my first shark into a relaxed state a few months after beginning to work with them. As actions evolved one day, I found myself lifting the shark into a vertical position and holding her there for a few seconds before she woke up and swam away.

People surfaced amazed, and that move became my signature for a few years. I realized that when people saw that image, they would be mesmerized and, at the same time, curious about what they were observing. Usually, after witnessing such a moment, the statement I would receive was, “I didn’t know sharks could do that.”

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Discovering The Land Of Fog

One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead of tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling like an average person, I decided to get up and start looking for potential new caves. As I was sitting in the darkness, scrolling through the map, something caught my eye. The excitement grew (that didn’t help me fall asleep), and I zoomed in on an area to have a closer look. It looked very promising. I wrote down the coordinates and went to bed.

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Our view on sharks

The biggest problem for sharks is that people don’t know very much about them. What they know are mostly myths. When most people think of sharks, they think of Jaws; sometimes, I think they hear the word shark and the soundtrack of the movie. I have to admit that most modern work has still not done much to improve the view of sharks. I stand behind the fact that Jaws was a movie, and it should not take responsibility for changing sharks’ fate. The humans who watched it created a real scenario in their minds. If Jaws created some damage, I feel that programs that could have helped change sharks’ public view have entirely missed the mark. Modern television has played on people’s fears and emotions to trigger higher ratings, and revenue, without thinking about the final consequences towards the animals. They contradict themselves by regularly swimming and scuba diving with sharks, while verbally expressing the usual, annoying clichés and jokes about sharks. One of the first steps to understanding sharks is to stop collecting everyone under that simple word. Sharks are over 520 species, and they are so unique they cannot be categorized as one. 

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The quest for Anaconda swamp

In 2008 after driving around the island following the images taken by a satellite screenshot, my diving buddy, at that time, Arek Pers and I arrived at the end of a rocky road. Under torrential rain and threatening lighting storm, we hiked for over three hundred meters of uneven, sharp rocks and muddy ground to the edge of a swamp, where the water looked as if it was overflowing. 

We entered the water in a sidemount configuration, wearing drysuits and plunging below the darkness caused by the hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent feeling on our exposed skin, giving us an idea of the high concentration in the water we entered what appeared to be a cave opening. 

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Each one of us belongs to the Ocean

If I could go back in time 12 years to now. I wouldn’t recognize this Gemma today to the past Gemma.  I am now 46, 47 in September 2020 and I still feel 20 something. I feel younger than I did 12 years ago which sounds crazy but it’s down to lifestyle I guess. I moved to the UK coast 12 years ago. I have always had a connection with the sea, even as a little person, we would come to where I live now on day trips.  Even my Grandma and Granddad had their honeymoon in the village I live now, they were settled in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire so absolutely no roots in Suffolk, so I really know it’s that meant to be place.  My family draw and roots are here.

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The most enchanting voice from The Siren project

I can’t remember when my daily 1.5 hour-long walks turned into a routine and then from a routine into something that was more like a meditative state rather than exercise. 

When I quit my job as a Marine Biologist in the Maldives at the end of November 2019, I didn’t think that it would take me so long to find a new position and that by the end of February I would still be living at my parent’s house. Finally, after having sent 100s of job applications, I was finally offered a Marine Biologist/ Environmental Officer position in the Maldives… and I was so relieved. But as life has it… things didn’t quite work out as planned and by the beginning of March, the world plunged into a Pandemic (COVID-19) that left Millions of people unemployed (myself included) and would test the world, its people, the economy and country leaders.

So, when I felt overwhelmed being a 28-year-old woman living back in my childhood bedroom, frustrated with unemployment, and the sense of having no greater purpose, I started to go on long walks. Breathing in the crisp winter air felt like an escape from the frustrations of daily life as a young conservationist that hadn’t quite achieved what I had set out to do at age 17 when I decided to become a Marine Biologist.

During my walks I started listening to podcasts, anything from global news, marine science to human rights and I felt so inspired listing to all these activists and scientists that dedicate their lives to making this planet a better place for wildlife and humans alike. I was faced with a question I had been pondering on for quite some time: “Where do I fit in? How can I make a difference? What am I good at?”

And while I always imagined myself being a Marine Scientist, doing research and analyzing data… that wasn’t me, and I had to come to terms with that. I love the ocean, its vastness, its alien-like inhabitants, its colorful coral reefs, and its raw power, and I hope that Ocean Conservation will always be an integral part of my life. But what I had realized, especially working in the Maldives among an incredibly diverse team, was that I care about people. As much as I care about the ocean I care about humanity and the incredible injustice that dominates this world today. Witnessing unfair double standards, the exploitation of my co-workers, and blatant disregard for human dignity, I often felt powerless and the only thing I knew how to do, was to listen and be there for others. 

As human creatures we long to be listened to, to be understood, and to be seen. It sounds incredibly simple, but in today’s fast-paced society, how much do we actually listen to each other, and to what degree do we acknowledge the people around us and the work that they do? While movie stars, pop stars, and athletes are making a fortune, the people who are actually trying to preserve a livable planet for the next generation often barely earn a living, are mostly unseen and considered “hippies” or “tree huggers”. With a society that chooses short term capital gain over kindness and a healthy environment, I wanted to give a platform to the wonderful women who are dedicating their lives to protecting our oceans in their own ways (arts, photography, sciences, community outreach, filmmaking, tourism …).

So here I was, trying to figure out how to combine my love for the ocean with my desire to make people feel heard and appreciated for the work that they do. Without having any funds and truly not a lot of connections within the Ocean Conservation Community I figured social media could be the answer … and The Sirene Project was born. 

The Sirene Project is a platform for women from all walks of life, with different talents, different backgrounds and ethnicities, that highlight and connects female ocean conservationists to empower each other, inspire positive change, exchange ideas, create opportunities, and to be a resource for the next generation. While The Sirene Project might not tackle injustice or climate change within itself, I hope it gives a voice to the women who are trying to solve those problems. 

Leoni Dickerhoff

How do you get where you are today

Very often, I receive questions about how I arrived to do what I do, especially in the field of working with sharks. Some people want to know my field of studies, what I minor and major in, how much biology helped me with my work, and how someone else can arrive to do what I do. 

Every time, I find it hard to explain the complexity of my journey. Let me start with one simple fact: I didn’t study marine biology. I didn’t even study biology. I studied languages and all the subjects related to art, history, culture, poetry, literature. 

I had a childhood dream to have sharks for friends while working as an underwater scuba ranger that would control the safety and health of the oceans. However, I had a family that encouraged my passion for the water, going into marine biology was never a thought; it was a very foreign concept at my time and in my culture. I am glad things have changed, and more young people are aware and interested in these opportunities.

So how did I arrive here?

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Challenges That Change Our Future

“Humans are the only creatures with the ability to dive deep in the sea, fly high in the sky, send instant messages around the globe, reflect on the past, assess the present and imagine the future.” 

~Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist

When I first interviewed Cristina Zenato for my podcast What it Takes to be Wild, I thought she would be a great guest and would likely bring some real insight to our audience.  I had no idea that talking with her would open up a completely new personal challenge for me.

I’ve always struggled to believe in my capacity to live fully and explore worlds bigger than myself.  As a result, I created a small, safe life, with an acceptable job and reasonable marriage.  But there has always been a hidden part of me yearning to be stronger than I think I am. It is like a small white light in my chest  that occasionally glows bright and says: “You’re bigger than this”.  

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Shark Journey

As an underwater photographer, there is no animal more charismatic and exciting to create an image of than a shark. As a biologist, there is no marine creature more impressively adapted to life as an apex predator than a shark is. As a writer, there is no story more polarizing or important to tell than that of a shark. And as a conservationist, there is no animal that needs more help with PR than a shark does. Being both critically important and chronically misunderstood is a tough act to balance, so it is my greatest hope that through images, articles, and activism, we can all work together to tip the scales in favor of sharks around the world. 

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Click. Share. Repeat.

As a kid, I was never told what I could or couldn’t do. Instead, I found my own way and explored the outdoors, be that in my backyard, on the beach, or in the creek near my grandparents’ house. I spent my childhood in Texas swimming pools and learning about life in the ocean with my grandparents. Water was a defining part of my life. I felt connected to all waters, always wanting to see what was in it.

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The Island girl finding her way

Some kids know exactly what they want do to when they grow up, that was me, at least to an extent. My name is Jhénelle Williams and I was born and raised on the island of Jamaica, an island in the Caribbean. Island life cultivated an appreciation and love for the water and the marine environment and so I decided that it didn’t matter what I did in my career, as long as I got to be close to the water. In fact, that obsession started early. As a young girl in the first grade, I really wanted to learn to swim and compete, but my parents weren’t exactly on board at the time. I decided to go anyway. Three days a week, I took the school bus to the stadium to learn to swim with other students from my school. In hindsight, that really was not a good idea since anything could have happened to me, but to be honest I don’t regret it. From the moment I started, I’ve never stopped swimming. I went from competing with swim teams to competing in synchronized swimming and playing for Jamaica’s Water Polo team. It was exhilarating, but little did I know at the time, the best was yet to come through diving, in fact, its in the interest of being a better diver that I met Cristina.

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Protecting the blue gold

“The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water”

Humans are depleting this earth of all its resources, we are using natural resources 1.7 times faster than the ecosystem can regenerate. On this blue planet, only 2.5% of the water is freshwater, of that 70% is frozen and inaccessible, 70% of the accessible water is used in agriculture, 20% in industry, and only 10% is used for our consumption. The planet’s resources are only good for 2 billion people at the current demand but we continue to expand our population. We are nearly 8 billion people now, a critical factor in accelerating the depletion of our natural resources. An increase in population creates a higher demand for resources.

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Making a big difference with small actions

Cristina asked me to share a little about myself, my company, and my connection to her nonprofit, People of the Water. Who am I to say no to the Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee, Cristina Zenato? My name is Cheryl Adams and I have always been a coastal, beach, and ocean lover. I was born in California and moved to Maryland when I was three and still call it home. My motivation to start my charitable clothing company, Shelby Reef, came after watching the Sharkwater documentaries. That’s where I learned about the shark fin industry and how many sharks are in jeopardy. I knew I had to do something. I had heard about other companies donating a portion of their profit for a good cause and thought, I can do that! I decided casual beach apparel would be a perfect fit and started with t-shirts. They not only raise money for the cause but they can also raise awareness. 

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Exploration

Exploration is, for many of us, a very compelling word. It opens our minds and imagination to never seen places, to never discovered information, and to ideas of pursuing something that is beyond the ordinary. I believe each one of us is an explorer at heart; when we are children, we want to learn as much as we can about everything that comes our way, that is the explorer in us that is forming. We should continue to foster that explorer through our lives.

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The Landscape beneath the landscape

Sharks were the reason why I came to the island of Grand Bahama, caves became the reason why I was certain I had found my home.

There’s a landscape beneath the landscape. It was decorated during the ice age when the water level was almost 400 ft lower in the Bahamas. Nature created it with patience, there was no rush, step by step she sculpted this marvel of nature. Water trickled slowly down the then dry cave one droplet at the time, and deposited minerals, dominantly calcite, to form the incredible stalactites and stalagmites. 

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The vulnerable state of sharks

Many different words have been used by people to describe sharks. They are considered nature’s masterpiece; they are called beautiful, majestic, mysterious by those who love them and killing machines, mindless killers, monsters by those who don’t. When asked how I would describe sharks, I always think of them as vulnerable. That is the word that best describes these fantastic creatures who were once indeed the masters of the oceans and guardians of the deep.

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The journey through sharks and caves

I took a big step and broke through the glass surface below me. I felt the warm Fijian water rush into my shorty wetsuit, my heart pounding of pure excitement. I was eager to glide beneath the surface and enter this new world. As I started my descent all noises disappeared and, it all became so quiet. All thoughts floated to the surface with each exhaled bubble. With each fin kick, I glided weightlessly through the water. I watched the most amazing paintings made by soft corals, the colors were incredible, I never imagined that it could be this beautiful. Bright reef fish were dancing in the blue water and reef sharks, the reason why I came here in the first place, swam by, moving effortlessly. 

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Meet the team

Welcome to our blog. We are going to try to share our story, our adventures and some of the projects we are currently working on. 

Our organization is very small, but it tries to complete a lot of work in the different fields of sharks and ocean conservation and caves exploration and land management. 

We want to start with a little introduction of our team members, Cristina Zenato and Kewin Lorenzen.

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