The Bahamas is often cited as the Shark Diving Capital of the World, with visitors traveling from around the world to encounter Caribbean reef sharks, oceanic whitetips, tiger sharks, great hammerheads and more. Bimini, with its thriving shark eco-tourism, is also home to world renowned Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) and the world’s first Shark Free Marina (illegal to catch sharks in the marina or bring them in). These tiny islands are setting a global standard for shark conservation, science, education and eco-tourism.
In February, government dignitaries from The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Dutch Caribbean, and Samoa convened in Bimini for a leaders retreat to discuss the conservation of sharks. The summit was hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Bahamas National Trust, with the participation of the Bimini Biological Field Station and Sharks4Kids. The event was based at Bimini Big Game Club, but the visitors got to experience the beauty of both islands, both above and below the water.
My husband and I were thrilled to assist with the education portion of the event, working with Louise MacDonald High School students. Angelo Villagomez, from The Pew Charitable Trusts and founder of Shark Defenders, visited the school with us to meet the students and discuss why sharks are so important for healthy reefs, healthy oceans and the people of The Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean. The students were asked to create artwork that reflected not only the beauty of sharks, but also why they are so important to the islands. The artwork they created, including a mural on the outside of the school with the quote, “Healthy Reefs Need Sharks,” was amazing and we are so proud of their efforts. The dignitaries visited the school and the students presented them each with a handmade shark gift and asked them to protect sharks in their respective countries, like they are protected in the Bahamas. Hearing students speak from the heart and with such passion, was extremely powerful and an event I doubt any of us in attendance will soon forget.
The guests were also visited the Sharklab and received a tour from director Dr. Tristan Guttridge and then ventured out to the semi-captive pens to meet juvenile lemon and nurse sharks with the lab founder Dr. Samuel “Doc” Gruber. After meeting the baby sharks, the team ventured out for a snorkel with Caribbean reef sharks and great hammerheads. In a very short amount of time they were able to see and experience why protecting sharks is so critical. They were also able to learn about the economic value of a live shark versus a dead shark. Millions of dollars are generated each year from the sharks of the Bahamas and other countries are taking note.
The event culminated with a breakfast at the Bimini Sands Beach Club hosted by former president of Costa Rica José María Figueres. Sir Richard Branson was the guest of honor and discussed ocean protection with the government dignitaries and asked them to create shark sanctuaries across the Caribbean and Pacific.
The event was huge success and we were honored to take part in it. It is amazing to see so many people from different backgrounds coming together for a common goal; save sharks!