I AM concerned over the picture of a man holding what looks like a baby blacktip reef shark or spot-tail shark in an article on Kuala Sepetang, Perak (The Star, Oct 14)
The consumption of wildlife, even those that are not critically endangered, is incompatible with the principles of ecotourism.
Blacktip reef sharks and spot-tail sharks are listed as near-threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Sharks play a vital role in the oceans. As top predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid, sharks directly or indirectly regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems.
Sharks usually hunt old, weak or sick prey; they help to keep the prey population healthy and strong, enabling these more naturally fit animals to reproduce and pass on their genes.
The effects of removing sharks from ocean ecosystems, although complex and rather unpredictable, are very likely to be ecologically and economically damaging. Sharks regulate the behaviour of prey species and prevent them from over-grazing vital habitats.
From a human health point of view, heavy metals and other environmental toxins accumulate in plant and animal tissues through the well-documented process of bio-accumulation.
Sharks are prone to bio-accumulation through diet, as they incorporate metals very efficiently and eliminate them slowly. Eating shark meat exposes the consumer to these potentially dangerous toxins, in particular, high levels of the methyl mercury.
While a certain amount of mercury in the environment is natural, growing worldwide pollution of our oceans is increasing the risk of high mercury levels in the fish we eat, particularly fish at the top of the food chain like sharks.
Consuming sharks will increase the level of mercury one ingests, which will in turn increase one’s risk of neurological disorders, autism, infertility, coronary heart disease or even death.
The depletion of the shark population may cause the entire marine food web to collapse, resulting in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species as well.
Consumers should be mindful of what actually constitutes “ecotourism” or sustainable nature tourism before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal population, the natural environment and the local community.
Good ecotourism practices may include activities such as beach and reef clean-ups, tree-planting, data collection work and other hands-on activities that enable holidaymakers to make a positive difference to the ecologically sensitive site they are visiting.
We urge all travellers and netizens to avoid engaging in practices such as consuming wildlife and endangered species, whether or not marketed as part of an ecotourism activity.
The trade in and consumption of wildlife should be reported to WWF Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) Hotline.
Any offence involving marine life should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks.
We should be responsible, considerate and mindful enough to appreciate nature and the animal world without having to eat, own, destroy, harass, control or exploit them.
WONG EE LYNN
Green Living Special Interest Group, Malaysian Nature Society