#16 Work on a wildlife reserve or conservation project in Africa – COMPLETE

In Kiswahili the whale shark is called “papa shillingi”, translating as “shark covered in shillings”. There is a local legend that God was so pleased when he created this beautiful fish, that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven onto its back.

Whale Sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs and in the words of Volker Bassen, founder of the East African Whale Shark Trust, if we allow the extinction of these gentle giants to take place, then we as human beings won’t be far behind them on vanishing from this planet.

Since I first dived with these gentle giants in the Indian Ocean whilst holidaying in the Maldives, this majestic beauty and their grace have mesmerized me.

From 4.7 to 0.2 sightings per day here in Kenya, the population of Whale Sharks is rapidly decreasing at an alarming rate (90% decline in population in fact), but why? They are being hunted for their fins & liver oil – the product for which fisherman hunts them for in order to impregnate their wooden boats to protect them from shipworm and the like. A better alternative to using shark liver oil is to create oil from cashew nuts outer shell.

Under international law, whale sharks are only given a secondary type of protection. They are listed under CITES Appendix II meaning that trade in whale sharks is allowed but must be monitored.  Although relatively little is known about the biggest fish in the ocean, most specialists will agree that this level of protection is not enough.

The overall aim of many whale shark projects is to raise awareness so that the level of protection afforded to whale shark is increased. The more we know about whale sharks the easier it will be to review the level of protection. In order to fund the conservation projects, the research, education, protection, there must be money – how to create money? “Use them or lose them” Volker tells me.

The project I am currently working on plans to make a natural open water whale shark enclosure which a) allows for the research and conversation of the whale sharks to continue and b) which becomes a popular tourist destination. By charging tourist a fair fee that allows tourists learn about and safely swim with these whale sharks, revenue can we be created to fund the research and conservation.

This is also a community project, Waa is one of the poorest communities on the Kenyan coastline and is where is the enclosure is going to be placed. Every tourist will pay $20 to enter the park, which goes back to the Waa community council, to spend on schools, hospitals and other community projects.

Lastly, the money raised from this project will fund the purchase the machinery to make cashew nut oil, which is ¼ of the price and lasts twice as long as Whale Shark liver oil, thus diminishing the need for locals to kill the Whale Sharks for their liver.

One question you are no doubt wondering is, surely it is against their nature and “gruel” to put these whale sharks in an enclosure? Well, firstly this isn’t the first time it has been done; there are enclosures at Aquariums in Japan and USA, the biggest being at the Atlanta Aquarium. The enclosure being built here in Kenya, will not only be 100 times bigger than the one at Atlanta Aquarium but will also be in open water, in the sea, creating the most natural environment for the whale shark. Secondly, the brain of a whale shark (baring in mind a whale shark can grow to over 14m in length) is the size of a walnut, its been scientifically proven that they are very easy to keep.

The mantra of the East African Whale Shark Trust is we have to use them or lose them. Without creating a way to generate revenue to fund the research and conservation of these gentle giants, then we are going to lose them.

I am very excited to be part of this project and hope to come back next year, once the enclosure has been finished and the whale shark safely placed inside the enclosure

2 Responses to “#16 Work on a wildlife reserve or conservation project in Africa – COMPLETE”

  1. Fizzah on 08/05/2015 #

    I’m turning 30 in 2 years and was finding inspiration for my “30 Before 30” list. Definitely inspired! Thanks Joe. 🙂

  2. Alessia on 22/07/2015 #

    Hi Jon,

    I really liked your article about preserving the whale shark. Is there anything we can do from here to help you out with the project? One of my goals in life and in my list to complete is also taking part to these kind of projects and I am a lover and supporter of the environment.

    Please it would be good to share some more info about it.
    Thanks. A.

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