PULSE Speaks to Kathy Xu

 

After a memorable encounter with a whale shark and volunteering with Shark Savers Singapore, Kathy Xu, 31, founder of The Dorsel Effect, decided she wanted to do something more so that future generations could still see sharks alive rather than from picture books.

What sparked your interest in shark conservation work?

I have always been interested in the environment as a child. I can’t really pinpoint it to one particular moment. My weekends were spent mainly at the public library and that exposed me to a plethora of books. I grew up wanting to be an environmentalist. The turning point for me was a holiday in Australia in 2011 where I swam with a whale shark off the Ningaloo Reef. The experience was surreal and beyond amazing.

I loved how the tour operators were very strict about us keeping our distance from the whale shark and let the marine scientists conduct their observations first before we went into the water. The level of respect for the oceans and marine creatures in their natural habitats of the tour operators inspired me to run my eco tours as strictly and responsibly as them too. We offer snorkeling and marine conservation boat trips based in Lombok as an alternative source of livelihood for shark fishermen.

You left your job as a schoolteacher to work on The Dorsal Effect in 2013. How has the journey been so far?

It has been difficult, though not without little milestones. I do get my moments of cynicism and despair, wondering if I am making any impact at all. But it is the moments of seeing the fishermen excited about picking trash off the reefs while snorkeling or free diving on the trip with the boat trippers and having the boat trippers feedback about how much more they have learnt about sharks and the marine ecosystem after the trip — that makes the difficult financial situation, the toughness of implementing new things, worth the while.

What keeps you going?

Being in the ocean every single time, be it snorkeling or diving. That sense of awe, fear, respect and love for the oceans, wanting more and more people to experience this amazing experience without disrupting it. That beauty keeps me going.

What does success mean to you?

Being able to play a part, big or small, in making the oceans more thriving and beautiful and spreading a wide awareness in people to be responsible travellers who respect the oceans and understand that their impact on the planet can be a good one.

How do you sustain your passion?

When you are convicted to a cause, you never, ever, ever give up… You just keep going and going and going amidst the heartbreak, tears, joy and beautiful moments.

What’s your vision for The Dorsal Effect?

I used to think it was to convert as many shark markets in the world as possible, but over time, I think the real vision for The Dorsal Effect would be that there wouldn’t be a need for it to even exist because sharks are no longer in danger of extinction and that everyone travels responsibly with respect for the oceans and nature.

Good story

It had been a pretty unexpected end to the year of 2014 indeed. What started off as a casual mention of an upcoming Our Better World voting competition became something I would never have imagined happening.

Once the voting started and I saw how close to the possibility of winning The Dorsal Effect was, something triggered in me to reach out to the like minded for help. Before I knew it, the link share had a life of it’s own and started spreading further than I ever imagined possible and without my having to get it out there all on my own. It was really the work of a community and the power of an international team that loved sharks, that really propelled The Dorsal Effect’s story to 40,000 over views. Am most touched when even local artistes Tay Ke Wei and Daniel Sassoon actually voted and reshared on Facebook, as well as internationally acclaimed French film maker, Bruno Aveillan. Definitely super touched and I wish I could screenshot every single reshare here, there is just too many amazing people to thank, so so many of you I haven’t even had the privilege to meet yet and I wish I could! Please please don’t be offended if I haven’t thanked you for your efforts of voting and calling out for votes or haven’t had the chance to speak to you personally, know that all of you are special for believing in me and for loving sharks with one heart all the same. :)

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Seeing the call for votes and reshares of the voting link of friends and friends of friends and family, of like minded and the impassioned for sharks and oceans, the ones who struggled at building their own dreams and start up too even from those who don’t usually share voting links to call others to vote. It was all very very emotional and touching, AND humbling for me. I never thought 2014 would end with such a bang indeed and with such a strong international community backing me up, I know I cannot stop nor give up no matter how the odds always seem to stack up.

It was most interesting indeed too to hear from eternal optimist friends going “3000 votes only, can catch up one!” in response to losing the lead on votes, and they reminded me of the importance of looking at the many alternative ways to solve problems and take no as just an answer for a go ahead to find other channels instead. I think I have grown too in the course of building The Dorsal Effect, to realise that impossible is really nothing but you just really gotta keep asking and looking. Nothing sounds incredible anymore when you plough forward for an ideal. And the best part of it, you are never really alone, and thank you, all of you, for stubbornly reminding me of that through the month of December! Enjoying the shark facts, setting personal reminders each day to vote, pleading with or “coercing” your kakies (friends) to vote, you made the experience such an enriching and fun one for me too in spite of the emotional high!

So in spite of the big jump to overcome, we still wanted to end the voting competition on a good note with fun, good company, good vegetarian food, and a good ole shark pub quiz. It was amazing how everything came into place in a matter of 2 weeks, thanks to an amazing bunch of friends who believed in me and worked their own magic to support me too. Thank you, dear Shannon for responding to my call of Facebook (AND for your funny ways of calling out for votes on Facebook), Pav for offering up The Hangar and an amazing vegetarian menu so readily and quickly. Sarah and Dan for the amazing trivia questions and slides, Wei Yuet for the beautiful photos of an amazing fun night, Wena for the really cute shark guru and swimmer up stickers for the pub quiz winners and fiance Wilson for technical and emotional (and all the in between) support. Special thanks to the lovely people who showed up too, Doreen, Yixuan, Weng Fai, Vik, Leann, Sumita, Veronica, Xin Min, Sylvia, Victor, Yinn Yinn, Sharon, Sheena with Shannon, Kai and company as well as Sarah’s amazing colleagues and Pav’s amazing friends (sorry I only got Amon’s name :( ). You are right, Wei Yuet and Vik, it’s important to have fun and it’s a bonus to win and have fun but no one wants to win but not have fun so at least we got one part of it right! :)

Here’s to an amazing year ahead for marine conservation and sharks, it really heartens me to see articles like that at the end of the year:

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/24/14-ocean-conservation-wins-of-2014/

 

And for The Dorsal Effect:

Shark identification and upcycling as well as ecotourism hospitality alternative livelihood for shark fishermen

Work with WCS closer in terms of possibility of transforming TL fish market away for shark fishing with education and awareness.

More converted fish markets around the world

improved living standard for fishermen

more marine focus and outreach in the schools near fish markets

Bend and break and walk on

It has been a while since I blogged and I guess the high from a fruitful November from the successful marine conservation school trip fired me up to have been kept busy trying to propel The Dorsal Effect forward thereafter. I particularly enjoyed the sharing at SocialCollab where I got to meet the most amazing people ever, who believed and shared in the dream I shared as I spoke about The Dorsal Effect and my love for sharks.

The December came and I was really humbled to have been one of the entries for Our Better World’s Story of the Year competition and when first told about it, I didn’t think very much about it but I guess when I saw how everyone was fervently voting and supporting and the possibility of winning the grant to take marine conservation to greater heights with The Dorsal Effect became a very real possibility, I started to step up and do my part in gratitude for the votes too.

Thanks to very dear friend, very dear family and very dear ex students, I have been humbled, encouraged and touched by your relentless love and encouragement. When dear Adi first shared about his vision ahead of him (shan’t share too much here now first as it’s not the right time but in time, he will be doing amazing work and I will share more then), I was inspired to share shark facts for votes each day, as my way of thanking everyone for the constant vote and support. That really fired me up to find out even more about sharks than I already knew about and I was amazed by the positive reactions from friends, and the subsequent follow up questions they would ask with respect to the fact shared, which in turn got me to learn more alongside them too! Just like the inquisitive best students in class, I was amazed and excited by the interest and awe in sharks I was generating and that was when I was reminded of my time as a teacher.

Today while asking some ex students to help vote, I just broke down in front of the computer as I thought back about the times I was there through their tears, rebellion and growing pains and now they have been nothing but love, support and pure encouragement for my pain and struggles in taking off The Dorsal Effect, and the tables are now turned as they are there for me through my pains instead. I was just sobbing away as Jerome told me “it gets real shitty before it gets good so if it is shitty now it means you must be doing something good”. I really wonder how much good I probably might have done in my previous life, thankfully, to deserve all these little angels who continue to support and believe in me long after I am no longer their teacher.

Touched by dear all fellow Saints and JC friends like Whan Lee who set reminders for themselves to vote daily, to JET and Fuku alumni folks, the Raleigh alumni folks like dear Bridgette and her daily posts, who have been nothing but boosters! Touched by the maternal and paternal family who continually track the votes and get their friends to vote too. It’s really really cute and heartening to see them get all excited, invested and fired up by this competition! I don’t feel so alone with all of you in this with me!

I have been feeling bad even asking people to vote but dear friend, Edgar put things into perspective for me when he said I should just keep asking if I truly believe in what I envision for The Dorsal Effect and that my friends have no right to feel uncomfortable about me asking. It feels like an imposition on my part but indeed, the tremendous support only shows how everyone is backing me up in making this work so the sharks have it better, so I have to persevere and be relentless.

Let’s truly make 2015 count for the misunderstood sharks because it’s all about wanting to live in a world where we have stewardship and take responsibility for whether future generations still get to see sharks alive in the oceans, right? Live and fight for the generations ahead, not our current one, and everything will start to make a lot more sense.

Pressing on, guys, and in deep gratitude for this great boost, just thought I would share my thoughts thus far before we push forward with 2 more weeks of awesome shark fact learning and love alongside the votes!OBW-1024x765

http://vote.ourbetterworld.org/entry/8048331

Yours and with love many many times over,

Kathy

World of the damned

A recent sudden passing of an old friend, a NatGeo Live talk by underwater photographer, David Doubilet, and what I saw on my last trip to Lombok got me thinking about whether the world IS indeed really damed to ruination very quickly now.

So on the last trip to Lombok in early August, it was sinister how everyday I was there at the Tanjung Luar fish market, there wasn’t a single shark landed at the auction grounds and apparently there hadn’t been any for the last 2 weeks since before we arrived in Lombok again. Perhaps it really was the full moon and the Ramadan period to be blamed for poor catches, but it was also very likely too that perhaps there just wasn’t very much sharks left to be caught anymore… Looking at the dismal faces on the shark buyers’ faces in the empty auction grounds was certainly very surreal for me. The blood and guts and thousands of sharks that had been slaughtered on this very ground for years now, was hauntingly empty for the first time for me.

But it is in the positive stories that conservationists and the likes should seek after all in spite of the dire straits we are currently in right? I met with Dharma from Wildlife Conservation Society again and it is heartening to hear about how training the shark fishermen into alternative forms of sustainable fishing for squid and skipjack tuna is already underway and how there are plans for a shark sanctuary in South Sumbawa going on. How WCS has been documenting the shark catching situation in the Tanjung Luar for a while now and have plans to propose that 3 species of hammerhead sharks be put on the no catch list alongside the whale shark no catch legislation that is already in place.

There was so many moments on the trip where I felt disillusioned all over again. I could be picking trash off the eastern coast of Lombok on the boat trip one day and the very next morning I will see the villagers in Kuta emptying their pails of trash into the ocean and have all this emotional turmoil in me just watching it happen and not be able to do anything about it (for now only, I hope). When I would be putting knobby starfishes back into wetter grounds with tourists one day and seeing children selling bottles of sand off the pristine beaches of southern Lombok the very next day. At which point exactly did we feel we have the right to take nature and animals as our own to convert into profit dollars? How dare we?

We went for a heartening talk by David Doubilet at NatGeo Live recently and his breathtaking photos of the beautiful underwater filled us with awe and longing, even more so we felt the ache in our hearts when he says we have barely 30 years before all the corals are destroyed in our oceans. Next thing I know, Shell is drilling the Arctic for oil even after 2 failed attempts at seeking out oil spots.

I could go on and on about the depressing state of the oceans but I guess the one thing that shook the core of my being was seeing an old friend pass on so suddenly after having taken ill for just a few days recently. Not just any friend, and even though we never really hung out much enough, this was one special girl whose heart for the oceans and compassion for animals won my respect deeply. It’s the best of us whom we lose, that fills us with immense pain, somehow. As if it wasn’t hard enough fighting a seemingly losing battle against the ills of the world, we had to lose another ocean warrior who knew the oceans deeply and was constantly mesmerized by what it had to offer, one who loved diving under over and over again and could readily wax lyrical about her experiences with its beauty and wonder, for all to be captivated and converted. How does the world lose someone like that and still go on? The shock and immense pain of the loss of a good soul is never easy and leaves me with a greater sense of disillusionment for now. Thank you, Joanna Yong, for teaching about the importance of living life to the fullest most genuinely when you took off on your year long adventures around the world and showed us that nothing is impossible. I wish I knew what’s the reason you had to be taken from us so very suddenly but I want you to live on through a good project, and as I have said on The Dorsal Effect’s Facebook page, I will find the resources and expertise possible to start a coral restoration program in your name at the sites of The Dorsal Effect’s boat trip off Tanjung Luar on the southeast coast of Lombok, just because you believed enough in what I am doing, to come on the boat trip on a very special World Ocean’s Day just 2 months ago and I deeply appreciate the support and encouragement.

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Track the miracles

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So I realised how important it is for me to document this journey and it’s up and downs that have helped me to grow so much thus far. I went to a seminar recently where the speaker shared about the good in problems because they lead to solutions in business. To take it a step further, I think the problems that surface for me every once in a while are constantly training me to have a limitless instead of a limiting a mind. It’s really through the many breakdowns when new problems crop up do I realise just how panicky and weak I really actually am, to cave in easily instead of seeking, asking and being open to impossible ideas. But I realised the problems tend to push me too. It’s amazing how much I have grown and continue to grow, as a person and more amazing how I am meeting countless amazing people in this path of life, that has veered so far from the one I loved but was perhaps too comfortable in. Letting go of inhibitions, acquiring new skills to keep afloat, seeing the good in everyone and every situation, broadening my perspectives on situations, being sincere and helping others as far as possible in spite of own circumstances…truly enriching and fulfilling that even the current financial loss seems worth the sacrifice.

I saw a quote by Anais Nin recently on a friend’s Facebook status on which his friend commented, “I think I must a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.” and I fell in love with it instantly. How the challenges of trying to start something new comes with deep anguish and deep fulfilment at different stages of the journey continually and I relish in it.

On the recent Easter break Lombok trip in April. I had a most amazing group of people on the boat trip and I know if I don’t blog about it, it would be unfair to my life to lose the memory of the magic that came with it. Thanks to a really awesome underwater photographer (bless his blue heart and love for the oceans) I met at a TEDx youth talk I attended some months back (save for how unimpressed I am by the curator, of which that topic really deserves a whole new blog post of its own), Andrew Lim, who relentlessly offered help in documenting the marine life on the boat trip we go on and who kept on encouraging and reassuring me to believe that everything will fall into place in spite of the financial and logistical odds (and they magically did!). Right from arranging for a dive master and dive gear to be transported from Kuta to Tanjung Luar (thank you Discovery Divers for helping to make the impossible possible by agreeing to my crazy requests) to ensuring that Andrew managed to get to Lombok given the short window of time he had before his major leg operation and amidst limited leaves from work left for him then, I think it was really a miracle that everything aligned and we pulled it off. I just can’t wait to see and show off the lovely underwater photos Andrew took while diving in the snorkel sites we frequent. The boy is truly talented and I would love to see him take this passion in underwater photography to greater heights and for greater oceanic good.

I even had the honour of having a once National Geographic photographer on this trip as well, coming along to document the trip as part of his independent film project on shark fin and Indonesia, titled Findonesia. He was all heart and I had the most hearteningly deep and soulful conversations with him about how depressing and disheartening it can sometimes be, being burdened by the ills of the world upon the environment and the oceans, yet pressing on in faith of the goodness of mankind to make positivie change with increasing awareness of problems. I believe awareness should be empowering and not disillusioning. Thank you for the sincere and heartfelt review on Tripadvisor you gave for The Dorsal Effect, I have been greatly humbled and encouraged by my encounter with you.

All the amazing fishermen I have met at Tanjung Luar who now call me kawan; Sidik, Abdul Karim, Suhardi, Ophi. I long to transform Tanjung Luar into a place with sustainable income options through marine conservation educational ecotourism and sustainable fishing options for you. Where only live and not dead sharks are seen in the waters off the fish market. I don’t know how exactly to get there yet but as Xander, suggested, I think I should hazard asking Richard Branson for a hand? ? Because really, nothing is truly impossible as long as the mind can conceive, right?

For the many moments I have felt so helpless, I must remember too the countless moments where the stars aligned, real life angels appeared to give a lift and miracles happened.

On the flight to Lombok yesterday, I realised I have been on budget flights so much I haven’t seen a TV screen in front of me for a plane ride in such a long while that I kinda wanted to cry, thankful in my heart to Bill O Donnell for sharing about the Voucherlicious cheap flights deal for Qatar Airways, Singapore to Bali, on his Facebook wall a month back. I chose to watch the movie, Mandela, because I needed to be inspired and reminded of the importance of patience and biding one’s time. Thank you for having shaped my life since reading your book Long Walk to Freedom back when I was 15, Mr Nelson Mandela, you’re my long standing hero whose spirit I want to emulate and bring greater good in the world.

So here I am back in Lombok right now with the DDB team who are helping Our Better World on their first collaborative project of a video on The Dorsal Effect, I am truly blessed that they chose to give us a hoist by filming the project, and eventually sharing the story. There are many many more good things to come too, a TV crew in June and even possibly Blackfish movie screenings on the Sharksavers side for World Oceans Month. Soldiering on!

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Giving Up Is Always The Easier Option

While trying to keep spirits up and rationalizing a problem that just popped up this morning, I had a sudden meltdown, so sudden that I actually shocked myself too when it happened. I guess there was a disconnect between the head and the heart for me for that moment in time as I broke down and I was bawling my eyes up with visions of doom as I called the boy (much to his alarm and scare) wailing about how I can’t do this alone anymore and how it really feels like I’m holding a bucket full of water trying to bring it to the end point with all the water still intact, but holes upon holes just pop up about the bucket just as I am slowly mending each hole before the water is all emptied from the bucket. Perhaps today I reached breaking point again while trying to raise money to mend some holes, realizing that more holes had popped up because I had taken time to raise the money needed. Sometimes it feels like the cost just escalates, although I really believe in looking ahead and far and trusting in the dream and the vision. And for sure, the cost of entrepreneurship is more than monetary, as I collapsed in despair today. But, as a dear old JC friend who has walked the path of entrepreneurship, Li Wei, shares, giving up is always the easier option, are you going to take it?

I truly think I have a semi-charmed life when I look at the angels who keep supporting me and egging me through this road, and they do it ceaselessly, unwaveringly…and I am touched by their commendable efforts to keep me going. I am amazed at how the people you meet and keep on meeting in the course of life will always come back into your life again for a purpose that touches the heart so deeply, and I am humbled and awed by connections in life.

What really keeps me going beyond the vision of sharks swimming free in the oceans for my future generations to behold, is the countless heartfelt stories and offers of goodwill I have received right from the start of choosing this path.

I was touched when a very old friend and ex boyfriend, Aaron, a most interesting and quirky pilot with a head packed full of interesting information and knowledge, invited me to his wedding recently with this very thoughtful and sincerely personal message from a year back:

Hi Kathy, the moment you have been waiting for has arrived! HAHAHAHA!

Hope you can join us on 11 Jan next year. Don’t worry, there will be NO SHARKS FIN on the menu. I don’t want it and Violette doesn’t want it, and we won’t let us parents override us. But in the 0.000000001% chance that it changes because of circumstances beyond our control and against our wishes, I will certainly let you know early and we will totally understand. Rest assured that we both are very committed not to have it on our menu at all and this is a just-in-case (on the same level of ‘just-in-case the world ends’ type).

And then when I was having another moment of facing odds and difficulties in Lombok recently in March, dear Nelle, a fellow volunteer with the Children’s Cancer Foundation from a few years ago, sent this encouraging story my way too:

Hang in there, don’t give up. Things have a way of sorting themselves out even if they don’t work out the way u hope they wld. U’re doing good work. I’m reminded of that each time I see a ‘I’m FIN-ished’ poster on the streets. You’ve inspired me to stop eating shark’s fins too. So as your ‘convert’, I say, dear Kathy, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

And the stories don’t end there when sweet Rachel, a fellow participant of the Young Social Entrepreneurs Program 2013, sent me this story too:

By the way, today my colleague from Hong Kong asked me about Danea (my ckc spaniel) and Matt (Rachel’s little brother). I told her about them, and about you and The Dorsal Effect and sharks.. she said you were an amazing person. She told me that she would never eat sharks fin again. Just wanted to let you know.. this hasn’t been the first time. Even your story by itself inspires and changes people. Thanks for being everything that you are.. I always think the world needs more people like you.

And I get the sweetest sketch of a girl with a thresher shark from a very very dear sempai (senior) from my time in Japan on the JET program,Rebekah, who is the prettiest and most talented a photographer and artist whose works I have always always adored so so much until today, that I teared up seeing how much of her style was in this very beautiful sketch she sent my way, despite being tied up with her little toddler to mind most of the time now:

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And to one of the sweetest girls I have know from my days in SAJC, Soo Fang, who is a self made baker of the loveliest cupcakes ever conceivable, thank you for your kind and sincere offer although I don’t have the means to organize an event for The Dorsal Effect yet but that day shall come, thank you for this offer that also touched me so:

Hi Kathy, just want to drop you a quick note to say I love what you do at The Dorsal Effect! I’ll love to show my support by sponsoring 2 dozen shark cupcakes if you will let me , either for your event, personal celebration etc.. i think you totally deserve it! Its a little something from me to show my support for you.. and its the least and only thing i can do stuck at home with kids!

Don’t give up because i think what you are doing is really meaningful! Just drop me a msg when u need them and i’ll try my best accommodate!

So this journey has been tough no doubt, but truly, nothing short of amazing, with all these beautiful people from all the various parts of younger me’s life, that I have been blessed to cross paths with, and carry the friendship on with over the years. Your stories and offers have humbled me greatly and giving thanks and being in gratitude is something I will always choose in life because of all of you.
We’ll sleep the puffy eyes away and awake to fight more battles indeed. :) (Yes, I will press on, Bridgette and Sin Lei!!)
Also, special thanks Phil and Edgar for the puns on my meltdown, you guys never fail to put a cheer and laughter to my life with your jokes, as you keep reminding to always look at the lighter side of life with your winning witty ways. ?

Sunsets and sunrise

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The sunsets in Lombok are always spectacular if it’s not the rainy season, and on days of dusk as this, I like to be able to find little pockets of time to get behind the computer to reflect in serenity a little, with the beautiful sunset hues in the background.

So the last few weeks has seen a lot more ups and downs recently again. With a successful dating coach entrepreneur giving the lowdown that if my business is not successful and my bank account is depleting, I am not being responsible to the fishermen, it hit hard but what she said made a lot of sense and I am really lost sometimes too, about just how to get the demand going on a regular enough basis to lure the shark fishermen towards the alternative. I had a good presentation in front of the NTU Earthlink committee the weekend before departing for Lombok again on this trip and it really fuelled me up to see a enrapt audience with a quick buy in and swift follow ups on how they could help and be involved. That to me was an encouraging success. I got my first piece of paid writing up on Our Better World’s website (http://ourbetterworld.org/story/keeping-faith), which, if nothing else, was at least a personal milestone for me.

Yet deep down, I know I have so many so many more battles and demons within to battle with. Being back here in Lombok, I am updated about a supposed large fishing vessel out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, close to the Australian borders, where fishing and shark boats can go to trade their sharks or other seafood caught. or even approach to restock or refuel their supplies so they could stay out at sea for longer. No one seems to know or dare to share enough information about this vessel. Not where it’s from nor who it belongs to, but everyone knows of its existence there, and about 100 shark boats have been seen trading on it than at Tanjung Luar. Suddenly it seemed the problem wasn’t localised for me anymore. Perhaps shark fishing could be stopped in Tanjung Luar, but who’s to say it cannot still happen someplace else, worse if in the the middle of the ocean where there is no territorial borders. It again feels like I’ve hit a brickwall.

So I tried to keep spirits up going to check out a local elementary school in Kuta for possibilities of doing exchange with schools in Singapore or the likes, as part of a community involvement and marine conservation package to Lombok. At least get the locals involved in and be a part of ocean sustainability and the need to keep the oceans clean, with the help of students from other parts of the world, so the idea that we are all interconnected and that the oceans are shared, can be passed on to the local community here.

I guess I can try to keep my heads up and try and stay positive, but as long as I am not getting my numbers for the boat trip constant enough and going, ecotourism is not going to be a viable alternative for the shark fishermen here anytime soon. As long as my my bank account dwindles with the shark populations, I find hope a more and more distant apparition to hold on to. I know I am trying to put up a brave front with the publicity and encouraging posts on The Dorsal Effect’s Facebook page but let’s be honest, the fear in my gets greater and greater and I don’t know at which point (if any at all), do I decide that giving up is even an option. Is there any other way around this? I feel bad for the countless angels who have supported me on this journey thus far, but still, I’m really looking for a light amidst my constant struggles as I wonder if I even have the skill sets and capabilities to save sharks as I want.

What IS an entrepreneur?

It has been slightly more than a year since I first came into contact with Lombok and Tanjung Luar fish market and as I look back on the year, I find it important to take stock as well as look ahead with even more focus.

I have seen, experienced and learnt much from the countless times at the Tanjung Luar fish market, and come into contact with several conservationists along the way, while trying to keep my emotions in check and getting to know the community and the fishermen there as well. I’ve learnt the importance of building relationships and staying on the path over the course of 2013, even at times when I just don’t know what to do. Several people have come to the fish market to photograph the shark catch at Tanjung Luar and posted them on social media platforms to spark outrage yet what does an outcry on the internet do, albeit viral? The visitations are one off and merely a snapshot of the bigger picture of the whole situation in Indonesia itself yet I have fallen victim to posting at an emotional high when I first visited the fish market, and sporadically still at times. In my recent trip, I was truly heartened to have met the Wildlife Conservation Society guys photographing and documenting the shark catches there for a period of 4 months to put in place a proposal for the fishery department in Indonesia and it is always heartening to see local Indonesians working on it. Was also heartened to learn that they have heard about what I am doing and are also planning on capturing the angle from the fishermen’s perspective in their documenting as well.

I guess for what I am doing in Tanjung Luar, maybe it is time to put emotions aside and really focus on making the dreams for action a reality and as the year winds down and we go about making resolutions again, I want to remind myself to dream big and be bold as I write down the realities I want to see happening in Tanjung Luar through The Dorsal Effect:

1) steady stream of boat trip tourists from around the world, such that all the shark fishermen from Tanjung Luar will get a chance to rotate around in taking the tourists out on their shark boats and have equitable income among all.

2) steady stream of corporates and schools coming for the boat trip to raise the awareness and educational value of marine conservation and to experience the beauty of open oceans.

3) Development of responsible and environment conscious travelling culture in Lombok.

4) Legislation in place to prevent shark fishermen from the surrounding islands from hulling in their shark catches for trading at Tanjung Luar fish market.

5) Development of eco friendly resorts and shark and marine conservation materials and merchandise for sale at a transformed and converted Tanjung Luar.

It’s a great end to the year to have caught The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and learn the lessons of the need to fight hard and long unseen for the things we believe in. Also, as we live in a world where job hopping is common and company motto unknown or nonexistent anymore unlike Life magazine’s powerful “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer,to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”, I shall move on with the motto that shall keep me going too “to live in a world where our children and our children’s children can still sharks alive and swim free with them in the oceans”. I’d like to believe that company culture and motto is still important in today’s day and age and are still the things that keep us up and going each day at work as mine fuels me on.

Let’s go, 2014, it’s going to be a blast.gopr2753-300x225

Swimming upstream

Our fifth ever boat excursion the day before did not start off very well at all, we walked around the fish market and I saw a horrific number of sharks caught this morning. A row of about 20 juvenile ones and about 6 full grown, 2 of which were looked like the Great hammerheads…

I realised that the people in the shark abattoir seemed unfamiliar to me this time, not the usual fishermen I use to see or talk to, and I found out from Agus later that they were not fishermen from Lombok, possibly fishermen from the neighbouring islands. Tanjung Luar is still such a main trading centre for fish and sharks and suddenly the problem seemed so much bigger to me at that instance. I felt lost and a little crushed and my guests were horrified at the sight of the shark carcasses. Is this my battle to fight or a lost cause as I seem to be swimming upstream all the time. I try to build relationships slowly, I understand the needs and pains of some of the fishermen living in Tanjung Luar, and then I see this for myself and wonder if I am approaching this the wrong way. You can see dead sharks constantly but the the fact of the ongoing deaths still pierced at the heart as I broke down in a corner after we walked away. Wasn’t it just the day before that I received an update from Shark Savers that shark prices in Tanjung Luar has gone down by 80%? It is not lucrative and just too much work, surely they have to see the value of the tourist dollar? And it hit me that perhaps targetting the fishermen in Tanjung Luar wasn’t going to work, I needed the help of legislation and enforcement, but who could I approach or who do I know? I want shark fishing to be stopped here and I wanted the Lombok government to see that ecotourism is really the sustainable and long term answer to a country whose shores are so rich with reefs and marine life like no other, but is quickly being decimated. The irony of tourists wanting to seek out pristine beaches and reefs to visit yet the local population are looting and plundering their own resources without realizing that preserving these assets can bring them so much more in the long run. Legislation, education and incentive.20131205_074508-300x225 20131205_074306-225x300

As we set out on our boat excursion, I saw something I hadn’t seen before at my favourite snorkel site just off pink beach too. Yes the waters were still crystal clear and there was still an array of teeming marine life, but I noticed there was some bleaching that was happening to the corals now that I hadn’t noticed before too. Are the oceans becoming warmer that the effects pervade to these calm inner reefs now, or did something happen here that was a result my of bringing tourists here. I am left disturbed and very conflicted indeed.gopr2808-300x225

At the end of the excursion as we came back ashore, the fishermen led Agus to his house which was a stone’s throw from the fish market and handed him some bags of rocks because he learnt that Agus was in the midst of building his house and was in need of materials he had that he could spare. I was really heartened by the gesture and truly, the Indonesians have a gotong royong community spirit to help one another, which is why building relationships with them is so crucial in what I set out to do. A community that works together for positive change in the world can be a powerful force when harnessed.

There are many questions and problems that keep coming up in this journey and there have been so many moments where I have felt so small and so alone in the choice to plough ahead, but with Agus’ brilliant mind and sincere belief that this will work and with the heartening replies from people I have never even met before, on the Facebook post I made the morning before, I know I gotta keep swimming and working with the angels I have continually been blessed to encounter.

Thank you, all of you, for echoing the cause and fighting alongside me as well so I never feel alone