How do we protect the lives of humans, marine life and preserve stoke???
While debate rages over the West Australian governments response to recent shark induced fatalities, having recently immersed myself in the depths of the wild winter wonderland that is Canada and even deeper in the ski/snow board scene that thrives here, I couldn’t help but notice some potential commonalities that exist between the real threats to the both longevity of those who choose to spend their lives partaking in these geographically unique activities and the actual stoke that is accessed through and ultimately draws people to participate in these activities in the first place.
These threats arguably aid in preserving the true core appeal of these respective pursuits which suffer from ever increasing numbers of active participants especially around peak holiday seasons. This in part stems from the popularisation and establishment of entire industries based on the provision of hardware, accommodation and other goods and services required to enjoy these activities.
These days even land locked Canadian communities want to surf…
In both the ocean and the mountains the more participants there are competing for access to climatically variable phenomenon’s such as fresh snow or swell in geographically limited popular spaces on the hill or out in the line up ultimately begins to detract from the over all enjoyment of the experience for all. In the same way that once secret and remote surf destinations throughout places like India, Indonesia, PNG and Taiwan become further developed and commercialized with surf camps and boat charters… so too the less developed hills of Japan, Canada and even South America and Korea have the feet of investors stomping at the door keen to get in first and establish or expand existing chair lift and gondola networks and even helicopter operations to access more areas and draw more paying patrons.
…And then I encountered the more core pursuit of ski touring and split boarding.
There is definitely an almost hollow victory that comes from spending days enjoy the thrill of gravity pulling you down vast expanses of snow covered topography yet never having to “work it, to earn it” in the sense that the chair lift can repeatedly and effortlessly teleport you back to the top of the hill to do it all over again and again and again…. Along with every one else.
For those so inclined and not interested in spending thousands of dollars on season lift pass’ touring or split boarding provides the means of accessing more remote and less developed ski areas (aka the back country) to score fresh untracked snow. The surfing equivalent of getting away from popular and easy to access breaks through investing the time and effort to seek out more remote locations and potentially score uncrowded barrelling perfection.
With both of these scenarios there are certainly increased inherent risks and whilst they are numerous the most catastrophic are avalanches and shark attacks. In spite these increased risks the rewards are also far greater and as such people are continually drawn to travel further and further in search of perfect conditions.
Perhaps sharks and avalanches are the only phenomenon helping to protect these final frontiers. Deterring would be participants away and in doing so preserving the ever elusive sensation of stoke we all seek???
In reality the motive for shark management programs stems from the WA state governments fear of the potential impacts to tourism dollar? Killing sharks is for cross comparisons sake perhaps the equivalent of building a metaphorical surfing chair lift? Its not as if Australians are about to change their beach going ways.
Richard Branson highlighted in an interview on Australian radio recently: “You’re advertising a problem that doesn’t exist, in a major way, and you’re deterring people from wanting to come to Perth and your beautiful countryside around it.”
Avalanches clean up around 150 humans each year.
Around 100 people are attacked by sharks each year globally
In the 432 years between 1580 and 2012 there was 698 shark attacks recorded in Australia. 219 of these resulted in fatalities, or roughly one death every 2 years.
Being a keen surfer as well as a professional environmentalist I am torn between wanting to feel safe whilst in the ocean enjoying participating in the euphoric bliss that is riding waves and seeing the possibility of interactions with endangered yet potentially deadly animals controlled through further killing. While debate continues in the West it also important to note that the reality that some of the controversial methods proposed have been implemented along the East coast for quite some time. An example being the baited hook maintained off North Stradbroke Island just East of Brisbane.
“…Queensland employs both beach meshing and baited drum lines. Mesh nets and drum lines are not used in Shark Control Programs in any other State or Territory.” Shark Saftey Program… Until now.
Having grown up surfing at “Stradie” quite regularly in spite it’s deserved reputation as a sharky place it would obviously be hypocritical for me (and others) to oppose the strategies involved in implementing shark safety programs in the West without also questioning what occurs in my own back yard. In the back of my mind while surfing at Straddie I have historically certainly drawn some comfort from the fact the baited hook regime exists but certainly realise that it by no means is ever going to be 100% effective.
In the end, like the mountains, the ocean is a vast and dangerous place and as long as us humans continue to venture out into it there will be interactions with wild life such as sharks and some will definitely continue to be fatal.
The solution in part surely lies in taking a lesson from our friends in the mountains and focusing on developing further understanding and awareness of the potential risks of sharks being active in a given area. In much the same way avalanche risks are monitored and different areas of a mountain closed or open for access on a given day prior to further risk assessment being conducted and information purveyed to people of the potential risks.
At the end of the day the risk will never be eliminated but in educating and informing people of the relative potential risks we can only hope to help inform people and trust that they behave accordingly. Yes, the risk of shark attacks are not as variable on a day to day basis as snow and avalanche warnings are but irrespective of the risks of sharks or avalanches core groups of surfing and snow sport enthusiasts are still going to continue to knowingly take risks and put them selves in harms way in the persist of what they love.
Sometimes people will still choose to take risks fully informed and aware of the potential repercussions and put it all on the line to do what they love… and some times people will put them selves in unfamiliar circumstances unaware of the risks and Darwinism may take it course. In either scenario shit, as it does, inevitably happens. At the end of the day… It’s surely better to have lived and died than never to have lived.
How we let our governments act should not hold the ocean and its creatures accountable for the decisions (informed or otherwise) of humankind. The response to unfortunate fatalities should instead surely be to conduct further research towards developing a greater understanding of the risks and expanding a greater knowledge bank to educate and inform participants of the circumstances they are putting them selves in…