Exclusive Interview: Marine Protection Activist Avi Bernstein by Erin Nanasi

Seeing is believing: This picture shows a close-up of the head of a bigeye thresher shark Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2014764/Angler-filmed-trying-catch-8ft-thresher-shark-epic-battle-sees-pulled-water.html#ixzz1oB4lqS00

A love of the sea and a passion for the environment led my friend, Avi Bernstein, to fight for the health of the world’s oceans. Avi was generous enough to share his story and his battle for all sea creatures, but especially sharks, with Mad Mike’s America.

1) When did you first discover that you had such love for the sea, and for the animals you strive to protect?

I have always had a love for nature and the sea in particular, which was strange given that I grew up in the rather unnatural concrete jungle of London. Not with standing my urban surroundings, I loved being outdoors and have a wonderful mother who took every opportunity come rain or shine to throw a bag on my shoulder, kick me out the door and send me off into nature on a week’s adventure. Like most kids (and adults) in the 70s and 80s; I gorged on a diet of David Attenborough wild life programmes, such as the ground breaking Life on Earth. I thrilled at the story Joy Adamson was telling the world of Elsa the Lion in Born Free and later I was transfixed by Sigourney Weaver portraying Dian Fossey in Gorrilas in the Mist. These stories had a profound effect on me as a young child growing up, but it wasn’t until I became a scuba diving instructor 14 years ago that I began to realise my love for nature was being over shadowed by the knowledge that the natural world and was truly suffering. During the years I lived in Egypt’s Sinai desert, I watched with horror as the stark beauty of the desert, perfectly contrasted by the some of the most incredible coral reefs in the world; was being irrevocably altered by ‘progress’ in the form of development. Where once the silence of the desert was deafening, now cars, roads, big hotels, buses and tourists all came and money was made. Where once the Bedouin tribes fished to eat, now they fished to fill the restaurants and hotels. I watched all this and I concluded that if the Bedouin catch fish to eat, they will take only what they need, but if they catch fish for money, they will catch as much as they can. The problem with ‘as much as they can’ is that the fish will all disappear. If the fish go, so do the reefs, so do the tourists and so on. This simple truth, which can be applied around the world, and the realisation of it, is what caused me to work towards a sustainable future.

2) Do you have a formal degree in marine biology, or have you learned everything you know from your own experiences and research?

No. I do not have a degree nor am I an expert. I love to study many subjects and I read avidly. Currently, I am reading Great Waters – An Atlantic Passage by Deborah Cramer. A truly wonderful book. What I know has come from travel, people, books, adventure and from trying to keep an open mind.

3) Tell us about your trip to Oman? It sounds like an awesome adventure, what are you hoping to achieve?

For some time now, Omani fishermen have intensified their efforts to catch sharks. In Omani waters, thousands, if not tens of thousands are taken on a daily basis with absolutely no control, limits or regulations in place. There is growing evidence to show that fishermen are fishing all species and all ages of sharks. Many of the pictures we are receiving are of baby sharks, and many of the species caught, such as hammerheads and bull sharks are listed on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species – proving the industry is completely unsustainable. 90% of the sharks caught in Omani waters are caught by local fishermen. The other 10% are being caught by foreign fishing fleets, such as those coming in from India and Pakistan. The sharks are processed for their fins which are transported to the Asian market to be made into shark fin soup. The rest of the shark meat is consumed locally. In addition to the possibly catastrophic consequences of losing all the apex predators in the immediate vicinity – there is a much more ominous and sinister problem for humans consuming shark meat. More and more scientific reports are showing that shark meat is toxic with heavy metals such as Methyl Mercury and Cadmium. The presence of these heavy metals accumulated in shark meat over time poses a looming health risk particularly for pregnant women and children. A recent study by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag at the University of Miami was ground breaking in that it has detected the presence of the neurotoxin BMAA in shark fins. Since BMAA has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, these results may have very serious implications for human health. This is the background to our trip. I have put together a fantastic team of passionate volunteers determined to change this industry. We are going to be making a 3 week, 2000km journey along the coast of Oman to film, highlight and document the shark fishing industry. We are going to camp under the stars, dive with sharks and talk to the fishermen all along the coast. We want to get as much information as possible on this industry and try to find out what we can do to change things. One of our primary goals will be to see how receptive the fishermen are to a sustainable alternative. We are working on a plan to help the fishermen earn money sustainably through a tourist industry based on scuba diving. Ultimately, it would be wonderful to see the fishermen become boat captains and dive instructors. With the right incentives in place, the right training and the right support, the fishermen can become guardians of their own environment and masters of their own sustainable futures. I am sure your readers will very interested to know they can follow our adventures on a video blog right here on Mad Mikes.

4) You have recently posted some articles about Fukushima and the possibility that the Japanese government is not telling the whole story regarding the nuclear waste going into the ocean. Are you convinced that the seas around Japan are contaminated beyond a healthy level?

Without a doubt. Judging by the scale of the Tsunami, the damage caused to the reactors and the latest readings of radiation being taken around the site, it would be logical to assume that the sea has been contaminated far, far in excess of healthy levels. This is, of course, not only extremely worrying for the sea, but for the population of Japan who depend so much on the sea for food. Governments and the nuclear energy industry have an extremely poor record when it comes to informing the public on the safety of nuclear power. Even more tragically, it is not only the big dramatic accidents such as the Tsunami or the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that are damaging the most important eco system on the planet. Climate change, pollution, plastic, acidification, deep sea mining, commercial fisheries and habitat erosion are all having a devastating effect on the seas of our world.

5) Finally, you bring so much needed attention to the horrors of shark finning and shark fishing, especially when it comes to retail food stores selling shark fins and shark parts. Is there any specific retailer on which you are focusing your efforts?

Yes. Currently we are campaigning against the stocking of baby Big Eye Thresher sharks (Alopias superciliosus) at Intermarche, a large chain of supermarkets in France. Big Eye Thresher sharks are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. On their website, Intermarche claim to have a ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ fisheries policy. Stocking baby Big Eye Thresher sharks contradicts their claims and we hope our campaign will put pressure on Intermarche to live up to the promises made on their own site. The number of animal species going extinct around the world is simply frightening and we need to do everything we can to protect endangered species. Future generations will look back and think of us as Barbarians in the same way we look back at the slave trade. Future generations will look back and ask: “Why did they not do anything? They knew what was happening and they did nothing!” We must not deplete the future for our children – restricting only to books and film those magnificent creatures we are so lucky to see today.

Follow MadMike’sAmerica on Facebook and Twitter! Don’t forget to check out our HOME PAGE!

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2012 MadMikesAmerica
Did you like this? Share it:
Posted by on March 5, 2012. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Back to Main Page