Passionate about shark conservation, Grant Smith runs Sharklife (www.sharklife.co.za) from his fascinating ocean centre in Sodwana Bay. To find out more, Debbie Reynolds popped him 10 questions.
- What is Sharklife all about?
Since 2005 Sharklife has been dedicated to enhancing the protection of sharks in South Africa. We are based at the Sharklife Ocean Centre in Sodwana Bay KZN where we run various education initiatives.
- What was the motivation for starting Sharklife?
When you are in the water with sharks you get to see the real majesty of the animals first hand, and your perspective changes. It became harder and harder to sit by and watch sharks being vilified by ignorant media and slaughtered by the millions in fisheries. It reached a point where we had to make a formal stand.
- Why are so many of us still so uneducated about sharks and so scared of them?
Most people are disconnected from the oceans in their daily lives, so there is generally a low level of knowledge about marine wildlife. This unfortunately results in people picking up bits of misinformation about sharks in almost always horror style media reports. Combine the horror stories with a bit of primal fear and you have mass, completely unfounded, terror for sharks.
- What important role do sharks play in our ecosystem?
As apex predators in the majority of ocean ecosystems, sharks are vital to maintaining food web balances that have taken literally ages to establish. The continued depletion of shark populations will destabilise marine ecosystems and effect prey species in ways that cannot predicted.
- What are you actively doing about shark conservation?
At the moment we are mainly focused on education initiatives as this underpins the success of further conservation campaigns. More long-term campaigns involve engaging with authorities to find ways of increasing protective regulations for sharks.
- Tell me more about your free on-line shark courses?
Our free on-line shark courses build a student’s knowledge and understanding of shark behavior and biology. There are six courses available at the moment with the first foundation course covering broad topics on the species as a whole, followed by five species-specific courses which focus more on the finer details. We have almost 600 registered students so far and everyone gets a personalised eCertificate after completing a course’s final exam.
- Tell me about your internships?
The Sharklife conservation internship is designed for those who want to get involved in shark conservation, tourism or marine biology as a career. It is a unique two-week programme which offers both theoretical knowledge development and in water shark encounters to round out the interns perspective on sharks. Those interested can request a full programme synopsis from our website.
- When did you open your Sodwana Shark Museum and why?
We officially opened the Sharklife Ocean Centre in October last year with the launch of our Lotto-funded Ocean Discovery Project. The Sharklife Ocean Centre has been developed using a combination of authentic specimens and bold infographics to highlight key learning points relating to sharks and the marine habitat. Everyone visiting Sodwana Bay should pop in to the centre for a look.
- How is Sharklife sponsored? How can we help?
Sharklife relies on a small membership base to "keep the lights on" and develop projects for further funding. For just R25 a month you will play a vital role in supporting the organisation. The sign-up form can be found on our website www.sharklife.co.za
- What is your favourite shark and why?
My favorite shark is the Bull (Zambezi) shark as I have had a few enthralling experiences with this species over the years. But to be honest, every shark encounter still grips my full attention and leaves me with a greater sense of appreciation for these misunderstood animals.