Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shark Attack!

When I first visited Pulau Payar, Langkawi in 2009, I witnessed how tourists were offering bread to those coral reef fishes and there was a session where sharks were fed.  It is a known fact that wildlife feeding will leave an impact to their behavior and diet thus offsetting the balance of their surrounding ecosystem.

I observed some of those Blacktip Reef sharks came very closely to the tourists and I had   the impression that they were not aggressive at all. I was wrong. A recent incident has proven that these sharks are not to be taken for granted.

Some time ago, a guest of mine related her snorkeling experience during the shark feeding session. She was snorkeling and the operator started throwing the food into the water. Seconds later, she was surrounded by those fast swimming sharks. She told me that she was terrified for the fear of getting bitten. Luckily she was left untouched.

For another case, someone really got bitten. It was unlucky for this teenage girl who happened to be a friend of my friend. On 1st June 2011, three Canadian teenage girls went on a snorkeling trip with the Pulau Payar operator, Coral Island. A supposedly fun trip has turned sour when one of them got nipped badly by one of those blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) during the feeding session. 

What had happened?

The shark feeding session starts after a snorkeling group had their lunch and this is the usual practice of the operator. The reason for this? So that the operator can gather whatever left over food to be fed to these sharks. 

A guide from Coral Island insisted that the teenage girls should have the fun of watching the shark feeding by snorkeling in the water. One of them was doubtful and asked the guide if it was safe to do so. The guide said that it was alright and he went into the water. The  teenage girls thought it was safe after seeing the guide entered the water and they decided to follow. 

Scrap food inclusive of chicken bones were thrown in to feed those blacktip reef sharks. One of them was snorkeling and had her both legs hanging in the water. Five minutes later, an unsuspected shark went directly to her right feet and SNAPPED!
The shark's bite
The bite (zoomed in)
She was immediately evacuated by the operator and straight to Langkawi hospital. A surgery was done on that evening itself. 
First aiders attending to the victim on Pulau Payar before the evacuation
The result of the bite has cost four sliced tendons above the toes and her little toe may require a skin graft operation.
A visit to Langkawi hospital. Victim's feet had a surgery and her tendons stitched up. She will undergo another follow-up as soon as she returns home.

I am not a marine biologist neither a shark specialist and I now know a little more about them, thanks to wikipedia and the resources from the world wide web. A blacktip reef sharks in general is timid and seldom poses any danger to human unless roused by food. People wading through swallow water are at risk of having their legs mistakenly bitten.

After surfing the net, I have found that this is not the first incident of people having bitten by a shark in Pulau Payar. Someone had his finger bitten off while feeding the sharks and a tourist nearly had her finger bitten off by a baby blacktip reef shark while feeding the coral reef fishes. 

It is very unfortunate that this has happened to a young girl who now have to go through unnecessary difficulties. My questions are:

1. Do the authorities especially the Jabatan Taman Laut (Department of Marine Park Kedah) is aware of all of these incidents?

2.  If they are aware, what actions have they taken to prevent such incidents?

Who should be responsible for this? 

I vote for the authorities and the operator. They should know that shark feeding poses a risk to the feeder and yet they allowed these innocent tourists to be exposed to danger. There were past incidents related to blacktip reef sharks nipping tourists by mistake and yet they did not take any preventative measures to ensure such incident do not repeat. Are they going to wait for a fatality of a tourist before taking firm action? It will be too late by then.


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Rainforest Martyrs

The Amazon Rainforest has recently lost another two heroes and now mourning over their loss.

He predicted his own murder and six months later, he and his wife were gunned down in an interior city of the jungle state of Para in Northern Brazil. It is a very sad news for they were only harmless rubber tappers who simply wished to save the rainforest from being lost forever.
Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva (left) and wife, Maria do Espírito Santo

Click for more story and video.

News from Guardian.co.uk:

Six months after predicting his own murder, a leading rainforest defender has reportedly been gunned down in the Brazilian Amazon. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, are said to have been killed in an ambush near their home in Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state, about 37 miles from Marabá.
According to a local newspaper, Diário do Pará, the couple had not had police protection despite getting frequent death threats because of their battle against illegal loggers and ranchers.
On Tuesday there were conflicting reports from about whether the killing happened on Monday night or Tuesday morning. A police spokesperson said there were reports of a "double homicide" at the settlement called Maçaranduba 2.
In a speech at a TEDx event in Manaus, in November, Da Silva spoke of his fears that loggers would try to silence him. "I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist. [People] ask me, 'are you afraid?' Yes, I'm a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest."
Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra, who worked with Da Silva in the Amazon, said he had been in a meeting with Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, discussingchanges to the forest code when the news broke of Da Silva being killed. "He was convinced he would be killed one day," Smeraldi said. He added that Da Silva had been "very active" in the fight against illegal forest burning and logging. According to Brazilian media reports, Rousseff has asked her chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho, to offer support to the murder investigation.
"We now have another Chico Mendes," said Felipe Milanez, an environmental journalist from São Paulo, referring to the Amazonian rubber-tapper who became an environmental martyr after his murder in 1988. Milanez said that in a recent phone conversation with Da Silva's wife she had suggested the situation was "getting very ugly". Milanez added: "He knew the threats were very real. He was scared."
2008 report compiled by Brazilian human rights groups listed Da Silva as one of dozens of Amazon human rights and environmental activists "considered at risk" of assassination.

A video from ALJAZEERA

1. ALJAZEERA: Anti-logging activist murdered in Amazon
2. MSN: Brazilian activist shot dead in Amazon

In related to such similar assassination will be the late Dorothy Stang, an American-born Brazilian sister of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur order, who was assassinated in Anapu, a city in the state of Para, in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. Dorothy was outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor and the environment, and had previously received death threats from loggers and land owners.
Dorothy was often pictured wearing a tee shirt with the slogan, "A Morte da floresta é o fim da nossa vida" which is Portuguese for "The death of the forest is the end of our life."

Read more on Dorothy Stang:
1. Wikipedia: Dorothy Stang
2. Dorothystang.org

Guns and bullets have killed you but your spirits will live on among the natives of the Amazon Rainforest and all over the rainforest on our planet.

They are my true heroes, my rainforest Martyrs who wished not for power and fame but just to protect a few big trees. 

Will I be brave as them when trial comes? 

Rest in peace my Saints of the Rainforest, our Martyrs

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