ISS – Our Biggest and Most Traditional Group Yet

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In January 2017 The Dorsal Effect took over 50 grade 11 students (the largest group we’ve ever had!) from ISS International School to Lombok Indonesia.

The group is a wonderful mix of backgrounds – including Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Korean – many of whom come from traditional families where consumption of shark is the norm.

This is what they experienced over four days…

Insight to the shark trade

We start with a trip to Tanjung Luar fish market. January sees the lowest shark landings of the year, but eight sharks were landed on one morning giving the students great insight.

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Reactions are mixed among the students – there is awe, shock, and sadness.

The students must collect data as part of their trip, and after the friendly fishermen give us permission to do so, we start surveying – getting the species, sex, and length of the sharks.

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There is one particularly rounded shark, and one of the locals confirms our fear as he pulls out her babies – to the gasps of students and teachers.

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We then head to the processing plant, where the students experience what the sharks are reduced to: cartilage, skin, fins, satay and teeth. The smell of the plant is overwhelming; maggots eat away at rotting shark flesh and flies swarm the area – but the workers are warm, welcoming and full of smiles.

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To give context to their experience, the students then receive a lecture from the Wildlife Conservation Society of Indonesia who have been monitoring the shark landings for over two years.

“I learned that shark hunting leads to unbalanced marine ecosystems…”

Learning how to do underwater surveys

This is what The Dorsal Effect is all about – shark fishermen using their boats to take guests snorkelling instead of hunting sharks (such as Bayu, pictured below!).

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The students jump into the sea to get data on coral health, creature abundance, and threats to the reefs for their project.

Some students aren’t that confident in the water, and others have never snorkelled before. Put this with trying to learn underwater survey techniques (with monsoon weather!) and it’s a pretty steep learning curve! Kudos to everyone for sticking with it.

“It’s really hard for me to tell one thing that I was most impressed [by] but if I had to mention it would be snorkelling because the experience made me like the ocean.”

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Engaging with the local students

This is always a big hit with our guests – visiting Tanjung Luar high school for interactions with the local students. The students engage in some favourite games (like tug of war!), and also share their new knowledge about coral reefs with the local students. While the local students are connected with the oceans (many of their fathers are shark fishermen), most have not learnt about or seen corals, as snorkelling is expensive.

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We then took 8 local students for their first snorkelling experience. Like most children on Lombok, they are very confident swimmers – but it was the first time they used a mask to see what was beneath the waves.

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The ISS students and the local students then did a beach clean up together. It was a special moment seeing students from different backgrounds coming together to act against pollution.

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The ISS teachers commented how ‘alive’ many of their students became. It seems interacting with the local students really sparked something inside them!

“I’ve learned that we can communicate with people who speak a different language from us.”

Visiting Gili Trawangan

The students set off to the glamorous island of Gili Trawangan, to build their own bio-rock with Delphine of Gili Eco Trust. Bio-rocks, made of metal, are placed on the sea floor and serve as a platform for coral to grow on. Electricity is pumped through them, which accelerates coral growth.

Our society is edging toward a more sedentary existence, so it was great to see students with their gloves on, working physically hard to bend the metal into shape! Over the two days, the students make a large bio-rock in the shape of “ISS”.

“I’ve learnt the damaged we have done to our marine ecosystem such as shark hunting and severe plastic pollution, I’ve also learned ways to protect [it] like building bio rock.”

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After this, they learnt about the darker side of tourism. They first survey shops for shark tooth necklaces, most of which come from Tanjung Luar. They then visited a turtle ‘sanctuary’, where baby turtles are kept in dirty, shallow tanks. The shallow water means they cannot dive which stunts lung development, while the act of buying turtles from poachers is apparently perpetuating poaching. The students learnt the importance of questioning tourist attractions that use animals.

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The trip comes to an end…

It was a pleasure hosting students that are so rooted to their traditional culture, and giving many their first insight to marine conservation. We hope that we have ‘planted the first seed’, which will inspire change – if not now, then at some point down the road.

When asked if they will commit to saying no to shark fin soup, 30% of respondents said ‘no’, and 70% said they weren’t sure, ‘maybe’, or ‘yes’:

“I would say yes but there will be some point in my life where I have to social wise.”

“It is impossible to avoid it in my family it is a great deal in my culture.”

“I would never eat shark fin soup and would try and reduce plastic waste and in general be more mindful about the environment.

“I would not eat or buy any shark product.”

“…I’ll try to raise awareness by telling what I experienced to my friends in Japan and parents.

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(all photos copyright of International School Singapore and Agus Harianto)

(blog post written by Naomi Clark-Shen)

All materials used for research and data collection on the trip as well as some of the snorkel gear and life vests sponsored by:

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