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Sir Richard Branson talks eco-tourism with Guy Harvey

| 10/02/2016 | 6 Comments
CNS Business

Tiger shark (courtesy Department of Environment)

(CNS Business): Efforts by renowned ocean conservationists, Sir Richard Branson and Guy Harvey, to stimulate eco-tourism in the Caribbean are taking off in a big way and making a difference, protecting tiger sharks and whale sharks across the region. These projects, among others, were highlighted last week in a special ‘one-on-one’ interview at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit (CAIS) between the marine biologist and artist best known for his striking paintings of marlin and the English business magnate and philanthropist.

One particular tourist attraction, on an island just off of Cozumel, takes visitors swimming with whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. Prized for their huge fins, which are extremely popular in Asia, this success in terms of tourist dollars has changed attitudes and behavior in the region.

“The fishermen have finally realised they can make more money taking tourists to swim with these creatures than they can do by killing them,” Branson said. “Guy is tagging the whale sharks and we can then see exactly where they go and where they are being caught.”

It is a similar story in the Bahamas, where tourists are taken diving with tiger sharks, generating income for the local operators.

“It’s wonderful and some great research is being done,” Branson said. “It will pay for itself many times over in the years to come.”

Cayman News Service

Whale shark

“Our tracks have helped the Bahamian government introduce a complete ban on commercial fishing of all sharks from 2011 in the archipelago, which was a major step forward,” Harvey said. The BVI then followed, Branson said, with a ban on sharks and rays and he said they are working on getting a ban instituted for turtle.

“The tiger has become an indicator for the whole species,” Harvey said. “We are going to tag them here and name them after local schools.”

To achieve this goal, DART is sponsoring a number of shark fishing tournaments, alongside the Cayman Islands Brewery, Kirk Freeport, Fosters Food Fair and Cayman.com. Once the sharks are caught, they are tagged humanely and then released back into the ocean.

“We reward the fishermen with $1,000 to take the shark from them, otherwise it would have been killed,” Harvey said. “We will continue this series of tournaments for the next three or four years for sure.”

Other species Harvey is researching, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, include sailfish, which are among the fastest in the ocean and have racked up the miles while under observation.

“The satellite tags cost around $4,000, so there is an element of hope that the tag stays on,” Harvey said. One tagged sailfish tracked 26,000km over 12 months, which was a world record for that fish, getting as far south as Brazil. That compares to the 44,000km achieved by a tiger shark on a three year track.

The programme to protect sharks and other species in the Caribbean is just part of Branson and Harvey’s grand plans, with their aim to get greater protection in place for the seas, which are currently only protected for 200 miles around islands and shores.

“Although around 20% of the world’s land is protected, only 1% of the seas are,” Branson said. “We want to get that to 20% or, ideally, 30% protected as marine reserve by 2030.”

This effort is coordinated through a well-connected and well-meaning group of global leaders called the Ocean Elders, featuring Branson, along with others such as Prince Albert of Monaco, Jean Michel Cousteau and James Cameron — the sort of people that can write a letter to a president in their last year office and suggest creating a marine reserve as their legacy, Branson explained.

While he was here for the conference, Branson and Harvey also took a trip to Stingray City, where they tagged a few stingrays, although Sir Richard had been in the wars to some extent, sporting a cut above his left eye, after what he said was an argument with a glass jewellery store door, as well as nursing a bite from a Cayman stingray, although, as Harvey said, “You can’t leave Stingray City without a little hickey.”

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Category: Eco-tourism, Tourism, Watersports

Comments (6)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    alot of the time, guy hunts and kills fish for sport. end of story.

  2. Anonymous says:

    why does guy hunt and kill fish for sport??????

    • Anonymous says:

      He does catch and release Genius

      Do not try to take away from his efforts

      What have you done?

      Congrats to both and let’s help achieve a sustainable marine future for Cayman…

      • Anonymous says:

        Catch and release eh ! By which you must mean kill fish for sport.

        There’s a scene in a programme of his where he’s reeling in a game fish and a shark takes a chunk out of it before its hauled aboard. Conservation ? And if the sharks don’t get it before its “weighed and tagged” it’ll get it when its released, knackered after a few hours “fighting” (for which read fighting for its life). Conservation ?

        So there’s something amiss about an “ocean conservationist” who engages in sport fishing. Ok, you’re not holding the front page on that one but how much conservation goes on by making a living selling cheap cotton tee shirts, presumably made in China or Vietnam. Carbon footprint anyone.

        And isnt it strange that this conservationist is now on the payroll of the Cruise Lines. Nuff said

        Of course, all the money he makes go to his research institute. Well a percentage. It’s great publicity but you have to wonder what that percentage is ?

        So there is a genius in this story after all – a marketing one.

      • Anonymous says:

        so guy releases all of his catches?????

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