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I'm in my third and final year of my environmental science degree. I am passionate about the environment and believe the key to environmental management lies in careful communication among all members of society. To communicate science is to create a shift and is to bridge the gap between science and society. Humanities decision to both conserve as well as reverse environmental impact concern is a task appointed to many and we must all work together if change is ever to occur. I aim to be part of this change, through both research and education, which I believe will alter the fate of the planet for the better!

I’ve never been to America

Foreword: Australia has endless flaws and whilst I’m not going to paint a picture that Australia is not in many but different ways just as troubled, in just as much danger from government corruption and just as racist towards non-whites, that’s a topic for another day. 

I’ve never been to America, but I can tell you the names of 30 different cities. I can tell you which accents are from what location. I can tell you the name of the “discoverer” who stole the land from the Native Americans which ultimately lead to the genocide of thousands. I can tell I was told this through a fairy tale that painted Christopher Columbus as a discoverer and a hero. I’m not American but I can tell you about how this took place almost 200 years before my own country’s Indigenous population was also subject to the same pain. I can tell you a detailed narrative about how the British Slave Trade stole and destroyed entire civilisations and how still today this deeply inhumane act causes immeasurable pain, for not just those stolen but for those of the mother land they were stolen from. I’ve never been to America, but I can piece together almost a 1/3 of the American National Anthem and I can clearly sing the first 3 lines. I’m not American but I can tell you the first president of the United States, some of the names of the founding fathers that signed the Declaration of Independence, why there are 50 stars on the flag and even some of the First Amendment rights. I’m not American but I can tell you that I’ve known all of this since I was 10 years old but I’ve never been to America.

I’ve not been to most countries, and by comparison what I know about them is little more than nothing. I can’t tell you why any other country’s flag is the way that it is, nor can I tell you the names of any cities I haven’t been to, nor their history or the path of their justice system, not like I can for America. I’ve never been to America but I know more about it than any other country and sometimes I even know more about it than my own, but unlike other countries I’ve been to, I’ve never been to America. I know jam is jelly, and jelly is jello, I know cookies are biscuits, lollies are candy and I know trash is garbage, gas is petrol; and that the joke ‘what’s the number for 911’ was not funny to me because the number for 911 was 000, and I have known all of this since before I was 10 years old. I’m not American and I didn’t learn this at school, I didn’t learn it from my parents and I didn’t learn it from text books or from an Encyclopaedia. I didn’t learn it by talking to people from America nor had I ever had contact with an American, but at 10 years old my knowledge of America rivalled the knowledge of my own country. My knowledge of American culture could be recalled in much the same way because I had learned it all from America through my television screen.

At 10 years old, I knew that America was the land of ‘the free and the home of the brave,’ the only place in the world with true ‘freedom of speech,’ where you were ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and not ‘guilty until proven innocent’ as it was for me. The place where justice prevailed and where freedom of speech never failed. America, the place where children didn’t wear school uniforms, and going to school was optional. The land of pushpops, poptarts and arcades; fast food and home to McDonalds and every movie ever made. The land of little league baseball, backwards facing caps, skater bois, after school hangs outs and summer camps. A place with cool mums and dads who let their kids do ‘whatever they want.’ America, the place with two story houses and white picket fences, rolling green lawns and playgrounds for back yards. America the home of Disneyland and where dreams were made, a place of magic and where dreams really do come true. This was the only narrative I would ever be told.

Over and over again, subliminal messages would fire from our screens as if screaming at us ‘America is great, America is perfect,’ in this never ending loop. Program after program, advertisement after advertisement we were told that even though we’d never been to America that it was everything we always needed it to be and the only thing we should ever care about. At 10 years old, despite that our parents tried to tell us it wasn’t really like that and despite deep down we knew nothing could be perfect, we didn’t want to believe them because for most of us who’d never travelled to the outside world, it was all we knew. To some kids, America was the only country in the world worth knowing about, nothing would ever compare and nothing would ever be as good, not our food, not our clothes and certainly not Australia. Sometimes we would scoff at the thought of having to watch our own TV shows, and they had to be good if they were to draw in our attention. America, the land of equality, freedom and justice for all and yet… we never knew this was all a lie.

I’ve never been to America, but now when you call 911 you’ll go through to emergency because so many children don’t know the number for 911. I’m not American, but two years ago I had to explain to the 6 year old daughter of a close family friend of mine, that Trump was not the president of the world, that he was only the president of America and that he wasn’t our president either. Then I had to explain that Australia doesn’t have a president – so entrenched are we that the perverse pattern still continues on to today. Take a good look, America that is what your country has done for you, ‘he’s not my president,’ and only when I say it, is it TRUE, because I’ve never been to America and Donald Trump is not my president.

I’ve never been to America, but I can tell you when I was 10 years old that I saw the country through my screen in much the same fashion that an authoritarian regime would seem but I’m 16,000 km away. I’ve never been to America but even today when I turn on my TV every single television station will be playing something American almost 99% of the time and hearing my own accent is a novelty. I’ve never been to America but I’m forced to feel guilt and responsibility for a nation I’ve never been a part of. For which even as I say this, you might still argue I was. For a history I didn’t write, for a time I’m expected to understand, for a reality I was never exposed to and was never made to understand. If I don’t, I am publicly shamed for this, for your situation, that I cannot comprehend. Because it is not my country, and I’ve never been and I have my own shame, reconciliation, progression and changes to make. I have my own apologies to make. Much like most Americans today, America shaped my world view, but there’s just one problem, I’m not American. My life is still dominated by American culture but that’s not the problem, and not even why I’m angry, I’m angry because, America, you are still telling LIES.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to be part of the Social Media Universe now more than ever you have to know as much as I know about America. You have to know what you can and can’t say, you have to know how not to offend and you have to know most have zero tolerance for acceptance if you don’t. Often you must give up your identity, put yourself second and you must acknowledge theirs first, and you’ll frequently be expected to know things no one outside America should be expected to know or else be patronised and humiliated with social discourse you’ve never known. And I have witnessed from some, the so-called unity that is really exclusion of all but your own. You have to know they don’t understand your culture, because unlike you it wasn’t shoved down their throats until you had no choice but to remember the first three lines of their national anthem. You have to know they only know America, and for many of them, America is the world and the only world they have or will ever know. You don’t know us half as much as we know you, America, and I don’t think we’ve ever told you this nor have you ever been expected to know this because I’m Australian, not American.

From the age of 15 was when the cracks started to show, when the days of high speed internet began to take off. That was when the false narrative was finally stripped away. No longer was I giddy, weak at the knees and nervous to speak to Americans anymore, it would seem Americans were not gods after all, they were just people like everyone else. In fact, they were a highly troubled and divided nation of people thwart with division, racism and vast inequality, trapped behind a smoke screen their leaders had projected to the world for decades. A smoke screen that was extra thick and especially perverse for my country alone. Ever since I can remember, I have known America, but everything I did know was a lie and I never knew the truth. For that I’m deeply angry and for that I’m deeply disturbed, not because I don’t care about Americans, for a deep nostalgia, unity and even love runs through my veins, but because I spent half my life being told by America that they were nothing short of perfect.

Perfect despite they have guns. Perfect despite that the only gun I have ever seen was on the belt of a police officer and I’ve never seen anyone fire a gun. Perfect but my neighbours don’t own a gun. Perfect despite no Universal Healthcare. Perfect, but going to the ER could mean death anyway. Perfect despite they trial children in court. Perfect despite mass school shootings where thousands of innocent lives have been lost. Perfect despite that police murder people in front of thousands. Perfect despite white supremacy, racism and oppression that I’d have never have imagined in my wildest nightmares and certainly not for America growing up. Perfect despite most voted in a sex offender and refuse to acknowledge a global pandemic that is killing thousands worldwide. Perfect because millions don’t believe in science nor the climate crisis, won’t mitigate its threat and won’t vaccinate for other diseases that threaten humanity. Perfect, despite too many do not even believe in the pandemic.

America, this world of oppression, this world of pain and great division and needless sacrifice. This world of suffering, mass homelessness and deaths from inadequate healthcare; and as an outsider and despite entrenched in their culture, this we never knew about. I’m angry because I had to wait to hear it from Americans themselves, I had to grow up before I learned the truth, they never truly had a voice, and never even tasted what I thought I America was, nor were they aware of these tall tales I had been told, for I continue to shock my friends with the only narrative America had ever sold.

For most of my life I only imagined their life was perfect, I had only imagined they had democracy more intact than mine but the truth is, in some ways they are every bit just like me; except they have never known basic human rights like I have. For some Americans learning I have never lived like them, is too much to comprehend and so envious are they that they lash out in pure hate. I want to say sorry for never knowing their world for what it is, but often I don’t know what to say because there are too many euphemisms and acronyms in the way. It’s all I see, it’s all I hear about and it’s deeply rooted in my identity but I cannot understand, as like a child I’ve watched them fall apart and like a child I’m naïve and never know what to say from the start. I’ve tried to imagine a need for guns, especially in schools, the First Amendment rights and why healthcare was privatised. I’ve tried to imagine the unnecessary pain they feel with COVID-19 and how many people have negligently died, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve tried so hard to understand, so much at times that I’ve cared more about their problems than my own. I have spent long nights and days agonising over their troubles that they often kept me awake at night.

I have never been to America, but for the first time in my life I don’t want to go there, and like millions of Americans I don’t want to be told lies anymore. I’m not American and that much I know because nobody is American like you. What I can tell you is that I stand with you, we only ask for your patience in return and we need that most of all. Please don’t be offended for what we do and don’t say or for what we don’t know, because despite that I still live and breathe American culture still to this day, I’ve never known America and no one knows America like you do.

When I was 10 years old I thought I knew America, but now I realise I never knew it at all and for that I’m sorry and for that I offer my strength and to you I say this: maybe you’re not the ‘land of the free,’ but by god for the BIPOC (an acronym I learned just yesterday) the health challenged and all others who aren’t at the top, y’all are definitely home to the BRAVE.

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Preventing the spread of COVID-19

A practical guide for the home

Overview

First off, there are plenty of other useful sources out there that explain the importance of washing your hands and how to wash your hands correctly, so this paper will not cover this; but please wash your hands correctly, for 20 seconds and often! Instead, this paper will cover other aspects of managing the spread of SARs-CoV-2, that I personally believe [next to hand washing, our first line of defence] are the most effective ways to combat the spread of CoVid-19*. At the end of this article, there is also a recipe for homemade hand sanitiser with a final concentration of 83.12% alcohol.

(*Please note, I am not a doctor, nor am I a medical professional but I am a scientist (published in peer review) I have a B.Env.Sci (Hons) and I am currently seeking supervisor for a PhD that focuses on zoonotic risk factors of human malaria. I have extensive knowledge of infection dynamics and pathogen control, especially parasites both botanical and blood. I am also highly skilled at both conducting a search of, as well as interpreting peer-review scientific literature, particularly literature in the biosciences and biomedical sciences, including virology. The following information you are being provided with is correct for its time and is the best information available to scientists at this time).

Disinfecting surfaces to prevent the spread of CoVid-19

What you should use

I am writing this guide in response to an in-depth review paper recently published by Kampf and Steinmann (2020), which demonstrates what surface disinfections are likely to inactivate SARs-CoV-2 using model pathogens that are most like SARs-CoV-2 and therefore more than likely can be used to prevent the spread of CoVid-19 (see table 1 below or table 2 of the article). To inactivate the virus on surfaces [number of active versus inactive virion/single virus particles] in the shortest and therefore most effective time frame possible, you need pure rubbing alcohol, 95% ethanol (which is simply methylated spirits) or failing that at least 71% or higher isopropyl alcohol (which Aussies can buy at Bunnings or hardware stores).

The review by Kampf and Steinmann (2020) indicate, both isopropyl alcohol and ethanol (methylated spirits) with a concentration that is >70% (greater than) will inactivate the virus in 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the commercially bought product Isocol is only 64%, so it’s also ineffective for this time frame, but see the tables below to see other time frames to use on less frequented surfaces of the home. Thus this is where good old ‘metho’, for us Aussies saves the day. Therefore the study indicates that you should use these products to wipe down surfaces, making sure to saturate the surface, so it doesn’t evaporate too quickly. It is really important to make sure the alcohol doesn’t evaporate before the time it takes to inactivate the virus, this means you really need to wet/saturate the surface, so don’t forget!

What you shouldn’t use

I’m only going to say this once, do not use the following. Do not use benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine, (the main ingredients in disinfectant or disinfectant wipes) unless they have concentrations of at least 0.1% and they will be hard to come by at this stage now anyway! It’s funny (in a morbid way) everyone who panic bought disinfectant wipes have no idea that these products do not kill the virus- they are in fact wasting their time! This is because most disinfectant wipes are only 0.04% benzalkonium chloride, or 0.02% chlorhexidine, so in fact, it can take up to 10 minutes to kill it when used on surfaces. So unless the surface is literally wet and saturated for 10 minutes, it is still contaminated!

Put simply, I wouldn’t even use them if I were you, the risk is too high! It’s a gamble we can’t afford to make. Even more shocking, is that if these concentrations are even less than 0.04% such as 0.01% then forget it, these concentrations do not work at all! In fact, it will take 3 days to kill the virus (the same time it takes for the virus to die anyway!) so don’t use them, it is giving you a dangerous, false sense of security and it is the literal equivalent to doing nothing! Additionally, if you want to know how long the virus survives on surfaces, the paper also outlines how long the virus survives on different surfaces i.e. clothes, paper, steel etc… (see table 2 below or table 1 of the paper).

It is important to understand your hands (whilst organic) are also considered a ‘surface’ so in the event of an emergency (such as if you know you have directly come into contact with someone who is infected) you can ‘disinfect’ your hands or other parts of your body. So you can essentially submerge your hands in methylated spirits (95% ethanol) or 100% isopropyl alcohol for at least 30 seconds, and it will reduce the viral load to what is known as undetectable/safe levels. Basically, you’ll reduce it to nothing. However, the catch with that is, that it will dry out your hands! So best to only do this in an emergency, and make sure you use a moisturiser afterwards! Which brings us to my next point…

Hand sanitiser

Now, I spent a bit of time working this out and came up with my own recipe to make it based on the recommendations from WHO [but if there is anyone out there who feels the ratios are wrong then please correct me]. Here is a break-down of why I strongly believe commercial hand sanitisers are probably no-where near as effective as they are believed to be! A lot of doctors and medical professionals are saying you need a hand sanitiser that is at least 60% this is completely incorrect, it’s actually 70% when it comes to SARs-CoV-2, (see Kampf and Steinmann 2020). Why are doctors saying 60%? Because these professionals are misinformed and they have NOT read the latest studies in peer review! Peer review, for anyone who doesn’t know, is basically the latest up to date knowledge in the sciences that other scientists (usually experts) have agreed and approved to.

The science of peer review is moving really fast at the moment. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me, that more often than not, doctors and health workers DO NOT read peer review and so they are NOT up to date up with the latest scientific studies, which is critical in times like a global pandemic! How do I know this? Well because every up to date peer-review study I read, does not reflect knowledge or advice given to the public. In fact, according to Kampf and Steinmann (2020) concentrations of alcohol at 70% is not even really that effective against SARs-Cov-2 at all! Yes, it will reduce the viral load but the study demonstrates that with concentrations of 70% the virus only becomes inactive after 10 minutes, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, literally. This means the time it takes for a commercial hand sanitiser to evaporate is probably less than the time it takes to inactivate the virus to safe levels.

This might shock you but…interestingly, as I said earlier, if the concentration of alcohol is >70% it is the most effective. But something really interesting is that if we increase it from 71-75%, then the viral load is reduced to almost nothing, in… wait for it… 30 seconds! So that’s 30 seconds versus 10 minutes, which is obviously a no-brainer! So basically at 70%, you’d need to stick your hand in the hand sanitiser for 10 minutes to really get the full effect! In essence, it’s pretty useless. Whereas we know that with concentrations >70% (table 1) we see a massive reduction in the time it takes to reduce the viral load; and at 75% the viral load is reduced to undetectable levels in just 30 seconds! And here’s the really really interesting thing, most commercially produced sanitisers are a mere 70%, so isn’t it interesting that as soon as the threshold of 70% has been reached, you see a huge jump in the time it takes to reduce the viral load!?

This sort of result I would argue, suggests viruses like SARs-Cov-2 and new strains emerging from it, can develop some sort of resistance to commonly used concentrations of commercially available hand sanitiser and or household disinfectants! However, this may just be an artefact of the fact that products and their concentrations, were designed around studies such as these. Thus,  is what lead us to design these effective products in the first place, however, it is a compelling argument to suggest resistance, none the less!

Now if you scroll your finger up to the top of table 2, you’ll notice the higher the concentration of alcohol the better, so theoretically you’d want a hand sanitiser with the highest possible concentration of alcohol, something that reduces the viral load in the shortest possible time frame but also doesn’t evaporate before this time. Kampf and Steinmann (2020) demonstrated saturation of the virus using differing concentrations of alcohol starting at 75-78% right up to 95-100% reduce the viral load to almost nothing in 30 seconds.

So in terms of hand sanitiser you really need something that is >71%, and it just so happens that WHO recommends a final product which is 80%. However, as mentioned earlier, we can’t keep dousing our hands in high concentrations of alcohol, not only will they will dry out but you’ll have to use a lot! Plus to get a high concentration of alcohol in that final product you need a high concentration to begin with. So we need something to both counteract that dryness and keep the concentration of alcohol at an effective level-to reduce the viral load. We don’t want to dilute it past the point of its effectiveness. To do this, we need to dilute it by adding an emollient which will counteract that dryness but also keep it lingering longer. Basically, when you are dealing with alcohol in high concentrations, you need to make sure the dilution factor will be no less than the final concentration that is required to reduce the viral load i.e. must be >71%. Therefore ideally at least 75% for isopropyl alcohol or 78% for ethanol to reach the 30-second mark (see table 1). Obviously, we don’t want to be only slightly better than commercial products, we want to be better! So to ensure the most effective outcome, we need to ensure we start with an initial concentration of 95% so that our final product is at least 80%, as recommended by WHO.

 

Table 1 Kampf and Steinmann (2020) demonstrate, it is likely that SARs-Cov-2 inactivation is most effective at concentrations of alcohol >70% (yellow) whereas surface disinfectants chlorhexidine and benzalkonium chloride (green) are ineffective at concentrations <0.2%.

 

 

Table 2 As demonstrated by Kampf and Steinmann (2020) it is likely that SARs-CoV-2 will follow a similar time frame to other pathogens.

 

References:

Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., & Steinmann, E. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection. [Link to full article] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195670120300463?fbclid=IwAR0WKiJmkj2jvsrbJTe_FeCjFZRfFPAy9T5EHTOw571F-FDP-EdLdTmv8ZA

World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf

N.F.Clark’s home-made hand sanitiser

*Generally speaking to slightly reduce the concentration you must have more alcohol than your solvent/emollient, generally 3 parts alcohol, 1 part the solvent/emollient. Alcohol without solvents are really tough on our hands so adding the glycerin will ensure your hands are quite moisturised and don’t dry out. Please also note that this recipe does not include hydrogen peroxide, since it is not essential to the process*

You will need: 

  1. Ethanol alcohol/methylated spirits 950 ml/L (must be 95% concentration)
  2. Pure glycerine or glycerol

Ingredients

Methylated spirits (210 ml)

Glycerin (30ml) equiv. 1/8 cup

Method

Pour in 210ml of methylated spirits in a clean, dry glass bowl or jug, then add 30ml of glycerin and stir well. For the equation and for the concentration to work, your final mixture must add up to 240ml. Pour it into a spray or pump bottle and you’re done! You can also double this recipe to make more.

And that’s it, now you have a home-made hand sanitiser that is at least 10% more effective than store bought*, as peer review studies indicate concentrations such as this are far more effective at reducing the viral load than their commercially produced counterparts.

Of course that aside, nothing is more effective than washing your hands; and no hand sanitiser should be used unless in the absence of soap and water!

Chemical equation this recipe is based on: C1V1=C2V2

950×3.5/4 (which is a little bit over 3/4cup) which is the equiv. to 95%x210/240= 83.12% which is also equiv. to… 210ml= 3 quarter cups+ 1/8 of a cup… but since the final product must add up to 240ml; this means to reduce the concentration of ethanol to 83.12% then we need 30 ml of our emollient which is 1/8 of a cup of glycerin.

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Shark ecotourism -The no bull shark approach

Shark ecotourism – The no bull shark approach

Two weeks ago I was assigned the task of writing up a ‘mock briefing’ as part of one of my subjects at University. I was given the topic ‘Is shark ecotourism teaching sharks to hunt humans?’  I performed a quick Google search and scoured Wikipedia for some general knowledge on the subject. Yes, Wikipedia! It’s no secret that even scientific professionals will consult Wikipedia for a well laid out easy to read concept- before seeking the crux of deeper knowledge of scientific journals and peer reviewed books – our most trusted and trialled order; the scientific sophistication the likes of which Wikipedia will never replace. But, something shocked me, Wikipedia didn’t have anything on shark ecotourism. And, I wondered why? Then I adjusted my search to say ‘shark tourism’, ‘finally’, I thought, ‘some facts that the public has access to’. However, I was shocked; the whole definition is half a page long! There are missing citations and there is no information on it. I felt it was almost deliberate! I had this overwhelming sense of discontent; it would appear the public is blissfully unaware of both the benefits of shark ecotourism and the myths surrounding shark ecotourism. And . . . like the proverbial dribble that shrouds our crackpot science minister (or lack thereof) total (but blissful) ignorance ensues.  With such uncertain frames of mind surrounding the myths of sharks and shark attacks, it’s a no wonder members of the public and private sectors have sensationalised beyond provision!

There are whole pages and completely ‘personal’ accounts of why sharks are dangerous, or why sharks are bad, or why some over stimulated sensationalist maniac ‘won’t dive with sharks’. The appalling monstrosity of modern ‘opinion’, blankets the foundations of knowledge and it drips into every avenue and gets so caught up, sometimes the truth is barely heard.

Not surprised, I braved the social media network and asked a few discerning questions about sharks, and the avid responses that came back, shook my blood and bones and you may as well have left me for dead.  With conviction, I kept my cool and asked such questions ‘do you think sharks are learning to hunt humans?’  ‘Do you think sharks should be culled because shark attacks have increased since sharks have found a taste for human blood?’  I writhed inside as I asked these questions, but it had to be said, the whole thing just had to be said.  Responses included ‘yes of course, what about those guys who were hunted and all of those surfers, you know those guys that got killed whilst surfing, they are definitely learning to hunt humans those things are crazy, they definitely need to do that culling sorta thing’. I couldn’t think of any story or specific time or date where these ‘crazy attacks’ took place and certainly couldn’t deduce much from the aforementioned opinions of my fellow human beings.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is what we call anecdotal evidence, it means exactly what it says ‘a personal account not necessarily true or reliable’, now I don’t blame these individuals for their ‘fear and moral panic’ but that doesn’t mean it should be the way that it is. Not to mention, not one of the varied responses I got had any connections with the word ‘ecotourism’ it was almost as if, they hear the word shark and their mind is made up!  They hear the word ‘man eater, killer, hunting humans’ and all logic goes out the door.

Last week, the rawness of the situation and the sensationalist opinion that scours the internet in droves, finally got to me. I became discontent and frustrated with the idea that humans are so caught up in this false perception of a marine creature.  I’m putting these anecdotal claims to sleep, and for all who will listen I am laying down the cold hard facts about shark ecotourism and it’s beneficial practices to bring to the world a new world view on the ‘tripe’ that has flooded the scientific airways for millions of Australians.  Bellow is an exact account of scientific peer reviewed literature, that will instil knowledge the likes of which Mr Google and Mr Wikipedia and their unhelpful ‘non-citat-ed’ offspring have represented about some of the most ‘feared, abused and ‘attacked’  creatures the world has ever seen.  So without further ado,  I bring to you SHARK SCIENCE! A non scary, non fear provoking, never-to-make-it-through, non cranked up, non demoralising, non fear mongering, non-anthropomorphising – truthful view of sharks.

Now, let’s ask the question: Does shark ecotourism ‘teach’ sharks to hunt humans? First, let’s cut the bull shark, because there answer is NO, but here is WHY –  the answer is NO. Because I want to be serious, I’m not going to add to the already tainted emotional context of sharks. This ‘fact check’ is the ragged shark tooth, that’s right, nothing but the shark truth!

Is shark ecotourism ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans?

Summary

Anecdotal evidence claims that shark ecotourism in Australia – along with the activities – is ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans.  Activities such as choosing a site and attracting sharks to a dive site as well as cage diving create unnecessary public concern, despite a lack of scientific evidence on the subject. This briefing, reviews current scientific literature and evaluates the likely hood that shark ecotourism practices, may or may not contribute to adverse behaviour in sharks in Australian waters. These issues with public concern have the potential to impact the tourism industry, has already caused a further decline of shark populations (such as great whites) and lead to unnecessary claims that sharks-since the introduction of ecotourism are being taught to hunt humans.

Background

Like all ecotourism, shark ecotourism involves getting up close and personal with the animals in their natural environment.  It allows the public to observe sharks from a safe distance to experience firsthand the behaviour of sharks – as they exist in natural conditions, with the aim to educate the public on the importance of shark conservation and dispel myths about shark behaviour (Lobel, 2008).  As humans are increasingly interacting with sharks in their natural environment, there are a number of concerns regarding the impacts these activities have on sharks. Wrongful portrayal of sharks in the media have lead to the opinion that the location of ecotourism sites and cage diving, as well as the methods used to attract sharks, are instilling hunting behaviour in sharks, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this.

Shark attacks V’s shark ecotourism sites

Sharks are formidable predators, they hunt down their prey and predatory attacks occur at the surface (Martin et al, 2009).In Australia, the past 50 years have resulted in 53 shark related deaths (West,2011). Shark attack frequency is however on the rise, and scientists attribute this to a decrease in the sharks natural prey source, coupled with an increase of humans in the water, which leads to sharks to coming into contact with humans more frequently, due to a decrease in the availability of natural prey (Buzzacott, 2005).  Ecotourism is situated where sharks are located, concern among the public is that, shark ecotourism locations are contributing to conditioning behaviour among sharks, increasing the risk of shark attack and sharks viewing humans as food. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies show, the risk and or probability that a shark attack will occur is very small, with an even smaller probability it will result in a fatality (table 1), whereby studies show, the chances are negligible (West, 2011). However, most shark attacks do occur in areas where more humans are present, indicating, the probability increases when more people enter the water (Bres, 1993) (figure 1). In spite of this, scientific studies have found no direct relationship between shark attacks and the locations where shark ecotourism is conducted, likely due to the remoteness of these locations and a lack of routine when attracting sharks to a site (Cubero‐Pardo et al , 2011).  Therefore, there is strong evidence to suggest, as shark attacks do not specifically occur in or around shark ecotourism sites, that no link exists between the rise of shark attacks and shark ecotourism locations. Given that there is no link, there is little evidence to confirm that ecotourism activities instil learned behaviour in sharks and therefore unlikely that ecotourism locations, teach sharks to hunt humans.

Figure 1-shark (1)

Table. 1 bellow shows the number of shark attacks in Australia from 1990-2009, showing only 22 combine shark related deaths from (NSW, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, NT) in a 20 year period with 0 shark related deaths for Victoria (West, 2011)

 

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,2011

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,201

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is diving teaching sharks to hunt humans?

Diving with sharks from the safety of a cage is a popular ecotourism activity in Australia, participants have the opportunity to interact with sharks, and likewise sharks have the opportunity to interact with humans (Lobel, 2008). With cage diving, members of the public are given the opportunity to view the sharks in their natural environment in scuba gear from a stainless steel cage that is kept afloat by rafts, and attached to a boat by a chain (Meyer et al, 2009).  There is growing concern among the public that cage diving allows sharks to become accustomed to the presence of humans in their environment. The panic being, the next time a shark encounters a human in their environment, having been accustomed to them- will see them as a food source and target them based on this knowledge. Studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies do indicate, sharks will not view humans as a source of prey simply because humans are present in their environment. Studies show, a shark will attack due to a number of reasons whereby not all attacks indicate a shark is hunting, instead they may be investigating their surroundings with their mouths or defending their territory by bumping or grazing humans in the water (Martin, 2007). Current scientific knowledge of shark attacks, show, a human, coupled with the act of swimming whilst wearing a wet suit, can mimic the look , sound and movement of a seal, a natural prey (Caldicoot et al, 2001). Scientists have also found, in most cases the attack is non- fatal suggesting they are ‘test biting’- implying, a possible misidentification where humans could be mistaken for seals. Furthermore, studies on shark agonistic behaviour show territorial threat displays towards humans at certain distances. Studies show, there was a critical distance to when sharks reacted and humans got too close, whereby the shark felt threatened (Martin, 2007). This demonstrates that, in the unlikely event of an attack on a human, it is unlikely related to learned behaviour, as the diver simply came too close to the shark . Therefore, sharks are not targeting divers as prey, but instead reacting to a threat in their environment (Ritter and Godknecht et al, 2001). This indicates, a shark is unlikely to be conditioned by divers, as sharks perceive a threat and not food (figure 2).

figure3-shark (1)

Figure. 2, above shows the critical distance barriers for when a shark reacts to a diver, performs a territorial threat display towards a diver, to the moment a shark is likely to attack a diver. This image indicates the shark is not hunting but instead feels threatened (Martin, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the method of attracting sharks, teaching sharks to hunt humans?

The most common method used to attract sharks to a dive site is known as ‘chumming’ and involves throwing chum (a burley mixture of southern blue fin tuna, offal and blood) in an area where sharks are located (Huveneers et al, 2013). Chumming attracts sharks to an area by stimulating their prey sensing receptors (olfactory receptors) and luring them to the site, by appealing to the senses and alerting them to prospect of prey (Clua et al,2010).Public opinion believes, chumming will allow sharks to develop behaviour that teaches them to view humans as a source of prey. However, studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Scientific evidence does however suggest, it is plausible that sharks may begin to associate the presence of boats with food.  Studies by Fitzpatrick et al (2010), show a link between the presence of sharks and boats which have released burley. Studies show, this impacts shark ecology more than human safety, whereby sharks may become dependent on this food source, effecting natural shark behaviour (figure 3). However, the study found no link to suggest sharks can directly associate humans with the release of burley, whereby humans, could be identified as a source of prey (Ritter and Amin,2014).  Furthermore, the release of burley is not exclusive to shark ecotourism activities. In fact, fishing boats and fishing charters also use this method to attract fish and ecotourism practices simulate the same process as fishing boats which have used the same methods that have inadvertently attracted sharks for decades (Clua et al, 2010).  Studies have found no link between a rise in shark attacks and the introduction of ecotourism activities which mimic this same process (Meyer et al, 2009). However, there are misconceptions surrounding shark attraction in Australia, as not all ecotourism boats use this method of ‘chumming’.  In Australia, Adventure Bay Charters,  lure great white sharks to a dive site by acoustic means. Without chumming, irregularly pulsed signals attract sharks to a low frequency sound, and then swim over to investigate (Myrberg et al, 1969).  Since acoustic methods, do not produce the same results seen with sharks and boats, this indicates current methods of shark attraction- at least in Australia, does not allow any causal opportunity for sharks to associate divers with the presence of food. With no food to influence associative learning, it is unlikely sharks will relate food with humans.

figure4-shark (2)

Figure 3, above image shows the results for a study conducted by Fitzpatrick et al (2010) noting changes in behaviour of reef sharks when boats were present and when boats were not present, suggesting sharks may associate boats with the presence of food and become dependent on this food source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion and recommendations

There is strong scientific evidence that the introduction of ecotourism has not lead to conditioning of sharks. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any activities regarding ecotourism practices such as shark diving, or viewing and the location of a site can, or even do, contribute to the specifics regarding the conditioning of sharks. Therefore, these activities have no current potential to teach sharks to hunt humans. However, there is scientific evidence to suggest, in certain situations, sharks  do have the potential to develop associative learning and can associate food with an object such as a boat.  Studies show, it is not impossible that chumming can influence differing behaviour with boats and the presence of food. However, this behaviour poses an ecological risk to sharks causing food dependence, rather than a risk to humans. Current scientific evidence indicated shark behaviour and boats does not lead to humans being perceived as food. However, sharks are dangerous, territorial and naturally aggressive animals and to air on the side of caution, to minimise impacts on both sharks and humans, the practice of chumming should be avoided. Acoustic attraction, along with the viewing of sharks from a safe distance is strongly recommended, as it will also decrease the risk that divers will experience attack phenomenona known as, test biting, territorial attacks (related to territorial threat displays) OR prey misidentification.   With these recommendations in mind, it is hoped the public will shift focus away from misconceptions surrounding sharks, and focus on the much needed preservation and conservation of sharks instead.

And… there you have it! The proper scientific evidence regarding sharks, shark ecotourism and all of the myths that go with it! No more bull shark!

References

Bres, M.,” The behaviour of sharks”. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, vol. 3,  no. (2), pp. 133-159, 1993

Buzzacott, P. “An estimate of the risk of fatal shark attack whilst diving in Western Australia”, 2005

Caldicott, D. G., Mahajani, R., & Kuhn., “The anatomy of a shark attack: a case report and review of the literature”. Injury, vol. 32, no. (6), pp. 445-453,2001

Clua, E., Buray, N., Legendre, P et al., “Behavioural response of sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens to underwater feeding for ecotourism purposes”. Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 414, pp. 257-266, 2010

Cubero‐Pardo, P., Herrón, P., & González‐Pérez.,”Shark reactions to scuba divers in two marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, vol. 21, no. (3), pp. 239-246, 2011

Fitzpatrick, R., Abrantes, K. G., Seymour, J., & Barnett, A, “Variation in depth of whitetip reef sharks: does provisioning ecotourism change their behaviour?”. Coral Reefs, vol, 30 no. (3),pp. 569-577. 2010

Huveneers, C., Rogers, P. J., Beckmann, C et al.,. “The effects of cage-diving activities on the fine-scale swimming behaviour and space use of white sharks”. Marine biology,vol. 160,  no. (11), pp. 2863-287, 2013

Lobel, P. S., “Diver Eco-Tourism and the Behavior of Reef Sharks and Rays–an Overview”, 2008

Martin, R. A., “A review of shark agonistic displays: comparison of display features and implications for shark–human interactions”, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, vol. 40 , no. (1), pp. 3-34, 2007

Martin, R. A., Rossmo, D. K., & Hammerschlag, N., “Hunting patterns and geographic profiling of white shark predation”. Journal of Zoology, vol.279 no. (2),pp. 111-118, 2009

Meyer, Carl G., et al. “Seasonal cycles and long-term trends in abundance and species composition of sharks associated with cage diving ecotourism activities in Hawaii.” Environmental Conservation, vol. 36, pp. 02, 2009

Myrberg Jr, A. A., Banner, A., & Richard, J. D. (1969). “Shark attraction using a video-acoustic system” Marine Biology, vol. 2 no. (3) ,pp. 264-276, 1969

Ritter, E. K., & Amin., “Are Caribbean reef sharks, Carcharhinus perezi, able to perceive human body orientation?”, Animal cognition, vol. 17,  no. (3), pp. 745-753, 2014

Ritter, E. K., & Godknecht, A. J., “Agonistic displays in the blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)”. Copeia,  vol. 2000 no. (1), pp. 282-284, 2000

West, J. G.,”Changing patterns of shark attacks in Australian waters”.Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 62, no. (6), pp. 744-754, 2011

http://adventurebaycharters.com.au/shark-cage-diving-with-great-whites/ Accessed, August 14th 2014

Humanity’s Choice

It was a cold morning in mid August in 2013 when the choice finally dawned on me, after almost 3 years at University and two ecology majors, not once before had this thought crossed my mind.  Not once in the times I analysed data, climate data, plant data and all species data- had I once visited the ideal that this choice was something all of humanity had to face. When the thought settled into my mind, I was grief struck, I was awe struck, I felt sick, tangled and distraught.  Not once had something hit so far home. In all the textbooks, in all of the lectures, in all of the labs ; not once had something hit me as hard as this did- in all of my time whilst doing Environmental Science had I ever even imagined. What happened on that cold morning in mid August 2013 in my lecture? I understood something that I never did before.  For you to understand the concept in just the right amount of intensity that I felt at that very moment, you need to let go of the pre-conceived notions that fill you with ideas about the environment.  Think about what those words ‘threatened’ and ‘endangered’ mean to both you, and to others around you.

When I ask- what does the label endangered or threatened species really mean? The first thing you think is, ‘Oh my god, extinction!’ Your first response will probably be ‘my children will never get to see rhinos and elephants- they will only be in text books’.  We all know about the risk of losing species, and we all know about the attempts to save those species at risk and we all know that no attempts to save species will ultimately lead to their extinction.  But, have we ever even considered what will happen if we can’t ‘save’ them all? In mid August 2013, something dawned on me.

Blinded by ideals, my class mates and I worked on the lesson task and discussed species loss.  We had been given a task to devise ways to save species at risk and how they can be saved using modern Environmental Science. With a blind heart full of dreams, my initial thought was ‘all species would be saved- because surely all environmentalists will save them all’. By the end of the class, my thinking suddenly changed. Then it dawned on me, there are over 30,000 endangered/threatened species (Baillie et al, 2004), we simply cannot save them all, no amount of conservation will save them all. My heart sunk and it was then that I knew.

I was faced with the cruel raw reality standing before me. Humanity has to make a choice, in fact humanity has NO choice but to make a choice. Humanity must decide who stays or goes, my hands were shaking and I looked over at my class mates with their hearts still full of dreams and it felt like my heart stopped.

So… now I ask the question, how do we make that choice, how do we make the most difficult and the most important decision a single species (humanity) is ever going to make? Similarly, a scarier thought… what if… we had, already made that choice? What if in all the haste to save the rhino, the panda and the Siberian tiger, have we unconsciously made the wrong choice?  On that cold mid August morning I was faced with the biggest reality of them all, what will humanity choose?

To understand the complexity of this seemingly endless swell, we need to explore the ideas behind species loss, and what it really means to ‘lose’, a species. What is the context of these words ‘threatened and endangered’, what do they mean? How is each label determined? Baillie et al, (2004) states, these words are used as a reference point from the IUCN list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and are categorised according to risk intensity. Different risks for each different species can lead to the loss of an entire species OR simply extinction. To assess this risk intensity, scientists look at the number of, the increase/decrease of a population of a species over time and the relative breeding success of the given species over time. From these deductions the risk for each species is ranked  into categories, serving as a reference point as to just how intense the risk of losing the species in question is.

The real question here is, can humans make the most important choice of all, can we chose to save the right species from the brink of extinction? Can we really make the right choice and can this choice be unaided by previous influence? Is it something we can do with a subjective eye? Of course we can- right? Well actually, probably not.  It isn’t something we like to think about too often, least of all scientists… but, humans are bias. But just how bias are we?

Scientists now know that humans have what is called a ‘cute’ meter in our brains, it’s called ‘Baby Schema’ (Glocker et al, 2009), this means, we respond to things we deem as cute, and from the age of 3 our brain is programmed to respond to specific features that mimic a human infant . The human brain responds to features such as, a rounded bulbous head, high cheekbones and large wide bulbous eyes (Sanefuji et al 2007).  So… in actual fact, since humans find these traits more appealing, where ever these traits are evident, humans have an automatic emotional response to cuddle, nurture and care for any species with similar aesthetics.  Therefore, in saying this, it isn’t too surprising that the most documented and heard of threatened species management cases worldwide belong to the cute, the cuddly and the downright adorable (Smith, 2007). That is, most threatened species management goes to species such as (to name a few), the panda, tiger and rhino. Unfortunately, it is all too true, and those species which are not deemed as ‘cute’, actually do receive less attention, in fact it’s well documented that this is the case. Scientists even have a name for it, it’s called; the Noahs Ark problem (Perry, 2010).

Aside from the lack of subjectivity and clear bias, the fact is, we (the human species) are selecting cute animals to save. By simply selecting our ‘favourite species’, it is unlikely to affect the planet in droves isn’t it? No. Actually, it is likely that in making this choice to save only ‘cute species’, other species will die as a result (Chaplin et al, 2000). It pains me to say this so casually and without emotion, yes- other species will die. If we painfully ignore that concept as part of our future- on the other hand, what if choosing to let a species die could actually not just wipe out one or two species (which is sadly a given and therefore not the most devastating aspect here) – but instead an entire community and the community that depends on that community? Not only will humanity have to consciously decide which species will go extinct, humanity could unconsciously choose to let the wrong species go extinct! All, without even considering the consequence, that humanity too will suffer!  Such a species like this in science is what is known as a keystone species, and if you lose a keystone species, entire communities can cease to exist (Dobson et al, 2006).

So what are keystone species? What do they do? What happens if you remove a key stone species? Keystone species are those species that mandate the function and unity of ecosystems. Keystone species hold all species in the community together in what is known as a trophic level order (Duanne et al, 2002).   Any species loss is biodiversity loss and when a  keystone species is lost, it is likely to cause a cascade effect, or a trophic cascade. As a result, entire communities hang in the balance. Ecosystems provide services to humans in what is collectively referred to as, ecosystem services (Chaplin et al, 2000). If a keystone species is lost, not only will an entire community collapse, humans will lose the service an ecosystem has to offer too. For example, removing a keystone species such as tuna, can affect an entire food web causing mass species extinction and mass economic welfare to the fishing industry (Chaplin et al, 2000).

Humanity has created an experiment. Not only could we make the wrong choices, but there’s nothing to say we haven’t already! There’s nothing to say, that ANY of the species we are trying to save are OR are not keystone species, just like the tuna. Consider this, it’s a scary terrifying thought to question whether saving a species such as the panda or rhino is right, but quite another to consider the possibility that a tiny little invertebrate such an ugly snail or warty toad, holds the key to the survival of every living species within the community the rhino or panda exist in. Then ask yourself, what happens if we a) never know of their existence and b) never know AND let them go extinct in our quest for cuteness? Sadly, the answer is, we don’t know. Scientists don’t know what the consequence of selecting cuteness will bring, we don’t know what the consequence of our already pre-programmed appeal to nurture and care for animals (that remind us of our own cute little infants)-will bring.

Humanity must decide, not only do we have to roll up our sleeves and open our minds to the incredibly difficult decision as to what species we will save, we also we need to be aware that our decision is pre-programmed instinct. An instinct designed to assist us in rearing our own young, which can be incredibly emotionally driven and without subjectivity (Sanefuji et al, 2007). All the while, these choices are strongly affected by the biological desire to protect all that we deem as cute.  If all of the animals we want to save are all ‘cute’, which cute ones do we save (will it be the rhino, the elephant, the tiger or maybe the panda?) Nevertheless, perhaps more importantly, we also need to consider- in our quest to save cute, have the not- so -cute completely lucked out? Are we creating our own unique biodiversity loss, is there a not –so- cute keystone species being driven to extinction? If so, what will happen to the environment if we make the wrong choice? OR have we already made the wrong choice?

Humanity has a choice, this is no ordinary choice, it is a choice that hangs in the balance of our very existence. Asking the question to anyone, ‘which species should live and which species should die’, is truly shocking, but there is nothing more real about this statement. On that cold day in mind August 2013, it wasn’t the fact that some species were not going to be saved that shook me. No, it was the likely hood that humanity would make the wrong choice and would not save the right ones. For me, it’s not simply the question of asking which ‘species we save and which we should not’, for the question in its self is riddled with discomfort. It’s also not even the notion of which ‘not- so- cute’ keystone species we should save or let go- despite that it’s even more confronting and uncomfortable as the later. No, for me, it’s considering the likely hood that anything that isn’t cute- be it keystone species or not, will be forgotten and will not be saved ; going down in history as humanity’s secret pushed- to- the –corner, shame. The shameful choice, the choice that alters the future of the planet for every single living thing.  And, perhaps the most confronting of them all on that cold mid August morning- the thing that terrified me the most and the thing that really hit home? That subconscious scientific affirmation that, I, as an Environmental Scientist -already knew the answer. The answer, that humanity has probably already made that choice.  Because for humanity, the final decision will always be the elephant in the room (or not, depending on how ‘cute’ that elephant is) and when faced with a double-edged sword for who stays and who goes; for humanity, not unlike all species, instinct will always reign supreme.

 

Baillie, J., Hilton-Taylor, C., & Stuart, S. N. (Eds.). (2004). 2004 IUCN red list of threatened species: a global species assessment. IUCN.

Chapin III, F. S., Zavaleta, E. S., Eviner, V. T., Naylor, R. L., Vitousek, P. M., Reynolds, H. L., … & Díaz, S. (2000). Consequences of changing biodiversity.Nature405(6783), 234-242.

Dobson, A., Lodge, D., Alder, J., Cumming, G. S., Keymer, J., McGlade, J., … & Xenopoulos, M. A. (2006). Habitat loss, trophic collapse, and the decline of ecosystem services. Ecology87(8), 1915-1924.

Dunne, J. A., Williams, R. J., & Martinez, N. D. (2002). Network structure and biodiversity loss in food webs: robustness increases with connectance. Ecology letters5(4), 558-567.

Glocker, M. L., Langleben, D. D., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J. W., Gur, R. C., & Sachser, N. (2009). Baby schema in infant faces induces cuteness perception and motivation for caretaking in adults. Ethology115(3), 257-263.

Perry, N. (2010). The ecological importance of species and the Noah’s Ark problem. Ecological Economics69(3), 478-485.

Sanefuji, W., Ohgami, H., & Hashiya, K. (2007). Development of preference for baby faces across species in humans (Homo sapiens). Journal of Ethology,25(3), 249-254.

Smith, K. Funding Distribution of the Endangered Species Act. (2007)

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