August is one of the best months of the year to visit your nearest beach, river or lake and to kick back and enjoy a day on the water.
What many of us visiting the beach this year don't realize is that our oceans are in a state of collapse. Not only are oceans under assault from overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification -- which occurs when salt water combines with carbon dioxide pollution, producing carbonic acid -- but many of the fascinating and unique creatures living in our oceans are also facing extinction. Not the least of these are sharks.
In early August, millions of people flipped on their TVs to watch Discovery channel's 24th annual Shark Week. Seeing new footage of these wild and powerful creatures each year is awe inspiring and a reminder that our oceans are still a frontier we've yet to fully understand or respect.
It's also a reminder that sharks deserve to be part of our lives for more than one week each year, and many shark populations are on the verge of collapse due to a destructive practice called shark finning. Shark finning is where the shark's fins are sliced off and the shark is tossed back to sea still alive and left to suffocate a slow death as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, finless and unable to swim.
Thanks to global conservation efforts, governments around the world are starting to take action to protect sharks. This is because sharks are often worth more alive than dead. Sharks are valuable because they keep ecosystems healthy, and diving with sharks is becoming a major industry in many places. This value is squandered when sharks are killed for short-term gain from the sale of their fins.
Chile, the Bahamas, Honduras, the Maldives, Palau and Hong Kong have all joined to outlaw shark fishing. Fiji is considering banning all shark meat and products, especially the trade of shark fins. Stateside, California is working on a similar finning ban approach and Oregon just passed legislation banning the trade, sale and possession of fins, joining Hawaii's law adopted in January. Micronesia, including Guam and the Marshall Islands, are taking finning even further by seeking to ban shark fishing in "more than 2 million square miles of their waters."
This is all great news for our world's sharks, especially if we succeed in creating larger sanctuaries for their habitat. Creating marine reserves free from catching and killing sharks will help many shark populations around the world, but still raises questions for larger predators like great whites and hammerheads with habitat ranges surpassing millions of square miles.
Still more must be done before shark populations can recover from decimated levels. Now is the time to act to protect our sharks. In you live in California, tell your representatives to vote yes for AB 376 to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. If you live near Sacramento, on Monday, August 15th, you can join activists on the state capitol lawn at 9:30 a.m. to show support for sharks.
Sharks are beautiful creatures that need our help if they are to survive. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. Let's stop this cruel practice today and ensure generations to come will know sharks as predators of the sea -- not villains of the screen.
Originally appeared in OnEarth Magazine.