Epic Diving participates in town hall meeting with the Bahamas National Trust
Here’s a video put together by PEW back in 2011 when the Bahamas was working to establish a National Shark Sanctuary. The Bahamas has long been a safe haven for sharks since the Long Line ban of 1992. Over the past 20-30 years, shark populations have remained healthy and the nation has certainly experienced the benefits of shark tourism. We were proud to work alongside PEW and the Bahamas National Trust back in 2011 to raise public awareness and help pass the sanctuary!
Bahamas Shark Sanctuary
Sharks are in trouble globally, and there are few locations where healthy shark populations still exist. In The Bahamas, a 20 year-old ban on longline fishing gear has left its waters as one of the few places in the world with relatively healthy shark populations. This has paid off for the small island nation. According to The Bahamas Diving Association, diving tourism has contributed up to $800 million to the Bahamian economy since the longline ban. There are, however, no laws there that specifically protect sharks. Pew is currently working with The Bahamas National Trust to gain permanent protections in all of The Bahamas’ Exclusive Economic Zone, an area encompassing approximately 630,000 square kilometers of ocean. By establishing comprehensive protections for sharks, not only will sharks be permanently safeguarded against other threats, but the health of the marine environment and the economy of The Bahamas will be conserved for generations to come.
The Bahamas National Trust Co-hosts Caribbean Shark Conservation Symposium: Expanded regional shark protections discussed during meeting
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) joined the Government of St. Maarten, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and The Pew Charitable Trusts as hosts of the Caribbean Shark Conservation Symposium, which took place from Tuesday, June 13 through Thursday, June 16. The gathering of Caribbean island government officials, environmental NGOs, and global shark conservation experts was coordinated to discuss the future of shark conservation in the region.
As the first Caribbean country to establish a shark sanctuary and a leader in the region, the voice of the The Bahamas was represented at the meeting by Eric Carey, Executive Director of BMT.
Carey said: “The Bahamas National Trust has been promoting shark conservation for many years. Our efforts to secure the longline ban nearly 30 years ago, presented an incredible opportunity to protect intact shark populations. Our being asked to cohost this meeting is a clear indication that the actions taken by The Bahamas to protect our sharks, has distinguished us as a leader in ocean conservation in the Caribbean. BNT is proud to have played a part in this.”
Also in attendance was Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, who has been supportive of establishing regional shark protections throughout the Caribbean, and cohosted a similar meeting in Bimini, The Bahamas in 2015.
During the meeting, four Caribbean governments committed to help reverse this trend by fully protecting sharks in their waters. St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands announced that their economic zones (EEZs) are completely closed to commercial shark fishing. Additionally, Curacao announced that they will establish legislation this year that will protect sharks in their waters, and Grenada is considering measures that would safeguard sharks within the country’s EEZ. Together, the two new sanctuaries cover a total of 119,631 square kilometers and raise the total number of Caribbean sanctuaries to seven.
The findings of a study of the economic impact of sharks on The Bahamas’ tourism industry were also released at the meeting. Lead investigator, Dr. Edward Brooks from the Cape Eleuthera Institute, was in attendance to discuss the study, which found that sharks generate US$113 million annually in direct expenditure and value added through tourism to the Bahamian economy.
Brooks said: “The results of our study illustrate the importance of the ongoing stewardship of sharks and rays demonstrated by The Bahamian Government over the last 25 years, for which they are now reaping the economic rewards. However, despite the actions of The Bahamas and the other Caribbean nations who protect sharks within their waters, more work is needed on a regional basis in order to effectively manage many of these economically important species which call the entire North West Atlantic and Caribbean home.”
Sharks play a vital role in the Caribbean, both to the health of the ocean and to a countless number of people whose livelihoods are directly connected to these animals. With at least 100 million sharks killed each year, establishing additional meaningful and lasting protections in the Caribbean will ensure a healthy shark population for future generations.
Make sure you take a look at the tiger shark article in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine. We were excited to work with Brian Skerry and Glenn Hodges over 2 seasons as they worked to construct the article.
We had some amazing Tiger Shark encounters at Tiger Beach as well as some interesting lemon and reef shark interactions. Here’s a sample. Find the full article here: He Went Face-to-Face With Tiger Sharks
This story appears in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
We’re terrified of sharks, thanks to their reputation as vicious killers. Shark attacks are rare but appear to be rising: There were a record 98 unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2015, six fatal. Less known are the crucial roles sharks play in ocean ecology. This summer, we’ll look at three species with notorious reputations: tiger sharks, great whites, and oceanic whitetips. We’ll meet scientists who are shedding new light on these enigmatic creatures that are vital to the seas, and not as scary as you might think.
We recently came across this article written by Tristan Guttridge at the Bimini Biological Field Station explaining how some of the tagging takes place with the Great Hammerheads in Bimini, Bahamas. Bimini is undoubtedly the best place to encounter the Great Hammerhead Sharks and has seen a recent boom in dive related tourism. Here’s Tristan’s explanation of the tagging process:
In short, by using a basic float-fishing technique taught to us by an ex-commercial shark fisherman in Florida. After mastering this method, with his guidance, we are now able to capture, tag and safely release a great hammerhead shark in less than 15 minutes. This is how we do it:
0 minutes: Once hooked, the hammerhead typically swims away, diving into deeper water (where available) and towing our set-up of giant buoys. The shark’s powerful turns and deep dives cause the buoys to submerge under the waves.
3 minutes: We intuitively ‘feel’ the shark moving through the water column and give it more line to manoeuvre and even dive if it wants to. Then we slowly and carefully haul in the line and after a few minutes the sensitive hammerhead reaches our boat, not in a state of exhaustion.
6 minutes: Once it is alongside our vessel, we point the shark into the current to ensure that water is flowing through its gills and supplying maximum oxygenation. One member of the team then holds the hammerhead’s dorsal fin to provide stability while others gently secure its tail and pectoral fins with ropes.
10 minutes: Another team member gently but firmly holds the shark’s head to prevent eye damage and to help turn the shark slowly over into tonic immobility so that it is calm and ready for a research ‘work-up’. Length measurements (nose to fork) are quickly taken and a 10-year acoustic tracking device is surgically implanted. Two small fin clips are then taken for DNA and stable isotope (diet) analysis.
13 minutes: On completion of the work-up, the shark is turned right side up, a miniature microchip PIT tag is inserted for long-term identification and an external tag (NMFS; National Marine Fishery Service) is placed on the shark for visual observations.
15 minutes: Finally, the hook is removed and the shark is released with strong push to set it on its way.
For example, of the great hammerheads caught in commercial, bottom-longline fisheries in the north-western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico between 1994 and 2005, 90% were dead by the time they were brought alongside the fishing vessel. This vulnerability makes hammerheads as a group very difficult to work with and they are therefore poorly studied.
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) has been made aware of the killing of a mature tiger shark in the Exuma Cays in early March. The BNT would like to remind the general public that the killing of sharks is currently illegal in The Bahamas. Although the BNT is sensitive to the needs to local people who may accidentally catch sharks and choose to consume it, the BNT does not condone the targeted culling and ruthless killing of such valuable, sentient beings. This shark was reportedly frequenting an area where stingrays were being fed. The targeted killing of this shark does not appear to be justified.
The Bahamas enjoys a great diversity and bounty of sharks, due to our relatively healthy marine environment, but these magnificent animals are considered threatened or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is due to the fact that sharks are heavily sought after for their fins for shark fin soup and similar products. In areas of the world where sharks were fished out, there have been complete shifts in the ecosystems that they had previously been the “Apex” predators of, and as a result, the decline of other fisheries meant that they too had to close. The role that these creatures play at the very top of their ecosystems, means that they are influencing the balance of everything beneath them in the food chain.
In The Bahamas, we actually economically benefit from having such healthy shark populations, as tourists travel here specifically to swim and dive with them every year. Shark tourism generates some $78M per year in The Bahamas, and is responsible for countless jobs across the entire country, including and especially dive shop employees. Many film and documentary makers also travel to The Bahamas in order to capture sharks on film, and when their movies reach others it is, in a sense, a form of marketing our sharks and our country. In simpler terms, a single, dead shark is worth only about $60 for its meat and organs, while a single, living shark is valued at $250,000 over its entire life time.
The BNT strongly condemns the the needless, intentional killing of sharks.
The Bahamas has significantly expanded its network of marine protected areas. On August 31, 2015, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment and Housing, announced the creation of 15 new parks and three park expansions, comprising over 11 million acres in total.
Protected areas constitute an important stock of natural, cultural and social capital, yielding flows of economically valuable goods and services that benefit society, secure livelihoods, and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The Cape Eleuthera Institute has recently begun an assessment of the economic value of sharks and rays in The Bahamas. The study is aiming to update a previous assessment of the tourism value of shark diving, as well as expand the assessment to be more comprehensive of other sectors that receive broad economic benefits from sharks, such as the Film and Television sector, NGOs working on education and outreach, non-dive related tourism, as well as research institutions that benefit from shark populations in the area.
Part of the study involves conducting diver surveys, the responses of which will provide valuable information to inform resource management decision making. They hope to understand tourists’ motivations for diving in the Bahamas, their feelings about diving with sharks, their level of dive experience, and their expenditures, amongst other things.
The diver survey can be found online and should take less than 10 minutes to complete. We will be have surveys available for guests during upcoming trips.
If you have traveled to the Bahamas for shark diving related tourism, please take the short time to complete the survey. Your answers will greatly help The Cape Eleuthera Institute obtain an accurate assessment of the value of sharks in the Bahamas!
From the ubiquitous caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks to the larger than life tiger sharks, to the ultra rare great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, the Bahamas has it all. While there are chances to see sharks at each of the islands, some of the highly sought after encounters can be reliably found at certain times of year, at certain locations.
While it’s possible to find tiger sharks off the coast of many Bahamian islands, Tiger Beach off the northern tip of Grand Bahama Island is world famous for these encounters, and for good reason. The dive conditions here are some of the best for shark encounters and hard to beat for photographers. Generally, dives with tiger sharks are done in shallow water, typically around 20-30 feet deep. The ambient light is plentiful and the sharks come close, ideal conditions for underwater photography. The tiger sharks are here year round, but seem to build in numbers over the winter months. Divers can expect to seen anywhere from one to a dozen or more of these magnificent predators surrounded by countless caribbean reef and lemon sharks. And there’s a lot more than just the classic sandy bottom of Tiger Beach. This area of the Little Bahama Bank also offers some incredible reef diving with loads of life like turtles, eels, grouper and stingrays. The reefs are typically a bit deeper, starting off at depths around 40 feet. They offer an array of colorful backgrounds for the “men in the grey suit.” A bit further North, Sugar Wreck is also a favorite of guests. It’s very shallow, around 15 – 20 feet deep, and covering in marine life. It’s a great spot for both diving and snorkeling.
Before the world knew about Bimini’s great hammerheads, encounters with this species was generally rare, brief, and unreliable. That has all changed. Each winter and early spring season brings large numbers of these magnificent sharks right off Bimini’s shores and for the first time, divers can book excursions dedicated to seeing this species. The largest of all the hammerhead sharks, these guys can reach reported lengths of 20 feet. Their huge dorsal fin is reminiscent of an orcas, towering above their bodies. Like tiger beach, the dives here are also shallow, allowing for extended bottom times. Nurse sharks are present on almost every dive and bull sharks tend to make an appearance as well.
The oceanic whitetip is a pelagic species and was once considered the most numerous marine animal over one hundred pound in the worlds oceans. Unfortunately, they have suffered dramatic declines over the past 5 decades and are now quite rare. Cat Island is one of the last hotspots to find this species, and truly the only location to book a trip dedicated to seeing them. During the spring months, female oceanics congregate in the deep water just offshore. Encounters with the oceanics are done as blue water drift dives. Divers can expect to see oceanic whitetip sharks and also have the opportunity to see a variety of other pelagic species, such as silky sharks, dusky sharks, mahi mahi, tuna, and even blue marlin.
The Bahamas takes pride in it’s shark ecotourism and understands the important role sharks play in their ocean environment. Building on the long line ban in 1992, the Bahamas created a shark sanctuary in 2011 protecting sharks against any commercial use in the nearly 250,000 square miles of ocean surrounding the country. Whether your thinking of adding a few shark dives to your logbook, or are an experienced shark diver and/or photographer, the islands of the Bahamas has some of the best big animal encounters around.
Cat Island has always been a very special place for us! It’s one of those far away, sparsely populated and undeveloped islands in the central Bahamas. While Cat is just a 45 minute flight from Nassau, it’s worlds away. You won’t find any big resorts and no casinos on the island, but it’s home to some amazing things. The reefs and walls off Cat Island show of some of the Bahamas healthiest marine ecosystems. The drop off is steep, dramatic, and virtually unexplored. But for us, diving with the oceanic whitetip sharks is the major draw. Both incredibly reliable and incredibly rare, the oceanics aggregate around Cat Island each spring giving you your best chance to see this species flourish! They’re here in numbers, the majority of the sharks are female, and a good percentage of them are pregnant. We do see males throughout the year, but only a handful of individuals. We get to see the same oceanics whitetip sharks year after year, and meet new ones on any given day each season.
Bolt heals with amazing speed
This year, we saw some of our favorites back again and met a few really cool sharks. Our oldest shark, Bolt, came back yet again. She appears to be the oldest oceanic whitetip we’ve seen on Cat Island. Not only has she been back to Cat year after year, she was also documented by the BBC off Cat Island back in 2006. Last year she was pregnant and this year she did not seem to be. She moves slow and her eyes appear darkened or “rusted” around the center while all the other oceanics have very light colored eyes. She gets her name from the lightning bolt marking on the right side of her tail fin. The lower part of the marking actually wraps under the tail and can be seen slightly on the left side. This year, we saw her suffer a large but superficial wound on her right flank. Looked pretty concerning at first, but after seeing her heal up so rapidly, we were amazed at how she just “shook it off”.
We saw another dozen or so repeat sharks from previous seasons. There were 4 males this year, and one of them was the largest male we have seen, by far. Typically, the males seem smaller and younger. He was even larger than the average female.
We also had incredible encounters with a variety of species. Drifting in the blue always give you the chance to see something surprising. We started off with a great hammerhead, tiger shark and blue marlin in just the first week! Throughout the season, we were lucky enough to see several blue marlin, mahi mahi, tuna, a blue shark, silky sharks, reef sharks, nurse sharks, dusky sharks, blacktips, and even dolphin! It’s like drifting through space.
We had our hopes up to come across Atlas, the dusky shark from the 2014 season. Atlas was recovering nicely from deep wounds caused by a rope he got stuck in. You can read more about Atlas in our blog. Unfortunately, he was a no-show this year, but we wish him well and hope to see him again.
We’ll miss Cat Island, but already have our sights on the 2016 season! We’ve started filling the calendar and hope to see some of our favorite sharks, and you! Learn more about our oceanic whitetip shark diving trips on our site.
Are you considering adding some shark dives to your logbook? Have you always wondered what it would be like to swim alongside the ocean’s top predator? Perhaps you are an experienced shark diving looking for your next encounter. Epic Diving offers some of the best shark diving opportunities in the world, conveniently located in the warm, clear waters of the Bahamas. After a thorough shark diving safety briefing, you’ll enjoy encounters with some of the top species of sharks. Take a look at our packages:
Great Hammerhead Shark Diving – Starting in January of each year, we are located in Bimini, Bahamas for the great hammerhead shark diving season! Here, divers can expect to see several of these majestic sharks alongside a number of nurse sharks, and the occasional bull shark. Dives are done in shallow water, typically around 20 feet deep.
Oceanic Whitetip Shark Diving – In March, we move to Cat Island, one of the family islands located in the central Bahamas. During this time of year, large numbers of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks migrate to the crystal clear blue water off Cat Island and can been seen on every dive! Most of the sharks are females and many of them are pregnant. Most of the diving is done as a drift, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Make sure you look all around since you never know what else may show up while drifting in the blue. We often see mahi mahi, tuna, blue marlin and several other shark species, like blue, dusky, silky, and reef! In between dives, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel with the sharks for some close up interaction.
Tiger Shark Diving – For the remainder of the year, we are located on the West End of Grand Bahama Island and go out daily for dives at the world famous Tiger Beach. Like the great hammerhead shark dives off Bimini, the typical dive at Tiger Beach is done on shallow water with a sandy bottom. There are also some incredible reefs at Tiger Beach where reef and lemon sharks always accompany the tigers.
Whether you’re an experienced shark diver, photographer, or someone who’d like to see sharks up close for the first time, our dive team will show you a week of incredible adventures with the ocean’s top predators. Contact us today to book your space, pack your dive gear, and get ready for an experience you’ll never forget!