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.