Chinese diving duo changing lives, just one shark at a time

After witnessing the loss of whales and sharks in illegal fishing, two young Chinese divers are seeking a new path to change the life of the fishermen and the marine animals.
SSI ļʱ

After witnessing the loss of whales and sharks in illegal poaching and fishing, two young Chinese divers are seeking a new path to change the life of the fishermen and the marine animals.

In October 2017, 25-year-old Dong Yani and 22-year-old Wang Qiming, who were studying in the United States, spent one month working alongside Spanish marine scientist Pelayo Salinas de León in the Galapagos Islands.

They did research, tagged the whales and replaced the underwater signal receivers.

The two shared their experience at a session hosted by Old China Hand Style in Xuhui.

They were the first speakers in the venue’s new series celebrating accomplishments by the generation born in the 1990s.

“When we were tracking the hammerhead sharks with the satellite to find their breeding grounds, one of the mother whales we tracked disappeared two months after departure,” said Dong.

“We saw a whale traveling in straight-line in the beginning, then it turned and turned and that meant it was caught.”

Ninety-seven percent of the land in the Galapagos is protected, but only 1 percent of the ocean is.

“The sad truth was that the whales weren’t the target in fishing,” said Dong.

“They were the by-catch of tuna fishing, along with other marine animals like sea turtles that eventually die and are discarded as garbage.”

During one trip to the area, they discovered a fishing net with hundreds of hooks. One sea turtle and one shark were hooked. Both were rescued.

But the pair also saw the beautiful side of the ocean.

“Galapagos has the most beautiful sea bottom and the richest diversity of species, including many species of sharks,” said Dong.

“As you dive, you get a glimpse of the entire food chain by simply looking up.”

After they graduated and came back to China, they founded project OrcaVida (WeChat: OrcaVida 生活旅行家) to organize marine welfare events and share their diving experience following the goal of protecting the marine animals and environment.

Ti Gong

Dong scuba dives in Galapagos.

Dong and Wang’s journey took them to Tanjung Luar in Lombok, Indonesia, a fishing village famous for shark trading where a large number of sharks are hauled daily to be sold in a busy market.

“The market has very bad conditions and facilities,” said Wang. “The waste water and blood were running on the ground.

“The first day was very depressing. Before, we were protected in a beautiful bubble and saw beautiful things when we dived.

“But the reality is the ocean we see in diving is only the 1 percent that’s protected by tourism.”

The sharks, including some rare and endangered species, are caught for their fins, an expensive delicacy. The locals are also too poor and they’d eat anything they caught, including manta rays that don’t actually have a lot of meat.

Ti Gong

Sharks are sold at the fish market in Tanjung Luar in Lombok, Indonesia.

The two young divers were undercover in Tanjung Luar as buyers to learn more information.

The local fishermen were on the alert when they saw Westerners, but they let their guard down at the appearance of two Asians.

“Shark meat is very cheap, and the thing is that nobody wants to eat the meat.

“When the fins are cut off, the flesh is only about 12 yuan (US$1.8) per kilo, and shark meat contains high mercury content that’s harmful to the human body,” said Wang.

Dong and Wang don’t condemn the fishermen, who are living desperate lives, and don’t want others to either.

But they believe in looking for ways to change their lives and save the sharks.

The pair started with one fisherman, whom they paid US$70 a day for using his boat — the same amount he’d make for going out in the sea to catch sharks.

“We wanted to tell them that taking tourists can make enough money, and US$70 a day for a boat of seven people is really cheap,” said Dong.

“We contacted one fisherman successfully and gifted him a lot of diving gear.

“We went to the sea with him for a week and that saved the amount of sharks he’d catch in the same period of time.

“The fisherman even took us to his home and his wife cooked meals for us.

“We don’t want to condemn them for the only way of living and surviving that they know.”

Dong and Wang later organized a diving trip to Indonesia, making more friends. And, most importantly, helping the fishermen find a new living.

Ti Gong

Dong Yani (front middle) and Wang Qiming (back right) with their teammates and locals in Indonesia. After witnessing the loss of marine animals, the two young Chinese divers are seeking a new path to make some changes. 

SSI ļʱ
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