A New Milestone For Humanity

Brunei bans shark trade at Celebrate the Sea Festival 2013

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Celebrate the Sea 2013 (7 – 9 June) was perhaps the most momentous, scoring the biggest milestone since its inception in 2002. This was the first time it was held in conjunction with World Oceans Day (8 June) and the first time the host country, Brunei, declared a ban on shark fins and all shark products.

The highlight of the 3-day festival was the grand opening at Empire Hotel & Country Club, on 8 June, quote the Minister Pehin Dato Yahya in his opening speech: “His Majesty, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, through the Department of Fisheries, will enforce the ban on the catch and landings of all shark species from the waters of Brunei Darussalam and thus their sales in the domestic market. Furthermore, the government will also now officially enforce the ban on the importation and trade of all shark products which has been in place since August 2012. These measures are probably the world's first commitment by any country."  The announcement was greeted with massive applause. News spread almost immediately via Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites and was greeted with the same response – everyone was cheering Brunei on!

It was thus apt to have Valerie Taylor, often dubbed “Queen of Sharks”, to be present to hear this declaration before her presentation on sharks. As she took to the stage, she congratulated Brunei and said she was both proud and honoured to be part of the event. Students from the Seri Mulia Sarjana School took to the stage and gave a beautiful rendition of “Song of the Ocean” complete with neon gloves which eventually came together to form the words “Save our Ocean” at the end of the song.

As with every Celebrate the Sea festival, there was the Children’s Art competition which saw children aged 8-15 bent over their artwork in full concentration outdoors in the sweltering heat, barely even noticing the mad paparazzi fest around them as the Minister walked by with his entourage – they did not even lift their heads. Many did not realise they had inadvertently put paint and crayon all over their faces as they wiped the sweat from their brows, making them (almost) as colourful as their paintings. It was truly a sight to behold.

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The 3-day event was peppered with talks and presentations by various invited speakers. We had the privilege of watching “Blue Water White Death”, featuring Ron and Valerie Taylor – the first film ever made with the great white shark. What we saw was a piece of history in the making. Michael AW spoke about the makeover of sharks’ image and presented videos and photos from the Elysium Epic. Mathieu Meur taught us about underwater photography, about avoiding “big blurry blobs” and “passport photo” shots. Jayne Jenkins talked about taking pictures that told a story and spoke of her involvement with Google Ocean. We also learnt a lot about corals from both Dr Carden Wallace and Dr Emre Turak, especially about the coral diversity in Brunei. Nick Coburns shared his observations on whale shark tagging off the Gulf of Mexico.

An open forum about “The ban on shark products” drew a mix of audience both young and old. Panellists for this forum included Valerie Taylor, Julie Adams, John Lu and Iwan Lugt. Interesting points were raised and discussed. The general consensus was that the approach needs to be both ‘bottom up’ (educating the public on responsible consumerism) and ‘top down’ (NGOs working with governments to ban sale/trade/import), in order for it to be successful.

The event ended with a gala award dinner where winners of both the underwater shootout and the Art competition were recognized. In addition, this year, Valerie Taylor, Carden Wallace PhD and Cassandra Dragon were inducted the ‘Hero of the Sea’ Award for their tireless, continual contribution towards protecting and preserving our ocean and its marine life.

All in all, this year’s Celebrate the Sea celebrated a new milestone of the humankind, the most significant ever for our ocean.

Tobias Fredich Portfolio OG pictures of the Year comp winner

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