Shark Attack Survivors Head To UN To Save Sharks

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Content provided by guest commentator Debbie Salamone, Communications Manager at the Pew Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast.

Australian Navy diver Paul de Gelder (left) lost his leg and hand last year when a shark attacked him during a training exercise in Sydney Harbor.

A shark tore off South African Achmat Hasseim’s foot as the lifeguard practiced rescue techniques in Cape Town in 2006.

Alabama school principal Chuck Anderson emerged without an arm in a near-deadly struggle with a shark in 2000 while training for a triathlon in the Gulf of Mexico.

The three men have never met. But they and about a half dozen other shark attack survivors from around the world, including myself, are gathering in New York City this week. We plan to ask countries meeting at the United Nations to take steps that will help save our attackers. Nearly a third of the world’s sharks are threatened or near-threatened with extinction.

Our band of survivors will tell our stories in hopes of persuading countries to implement tough rules to help these top predators. We want countries to set effective shark fishing limits, stop all fishing for threatened and near-threatened species and develop conservation plans. Member countries of the U.N. are considering a resolution on sustainable fishing, and shark protections are on their agenda. With the help of my colleagues at Pew Environment Group, I’ve been organizing the shark survivors’ efforts.

“Are we so self important…that we think we have the right to drive any animal to the brink of extinction before any action is taken?’’ de Gelder said. “Regardless of what an animal does according to its base instincts of survival, it has its place in our world, and we as the guardians of this world have an obligation to protect and maintain their continued survival and the natural balance of our delicate ecosystems.”

More than a decade ago, countries agreed to voluntarily produce shark management plans, but few nations followed through. It’s time to make shark plans a priority, act immediately and move from voluntary measures to firm actions.

We’re also asking countries to ban shark finning – a brutal practice where fishermen slice off a shark’s fins and dump the animal, sometimes still alive, back in the water. The sharks drown or bleed to death. The lucrative fins can fetch up to $300 per pound mostly in Asian markets as a soup ingredient. Up to 73 million sharks a year die this way.

A group of U.S. shark attack survivors gathered in Washington, D.C. last summer to ask the Senate for legislation to close loopholes in the nation’s shark finning ban. We are still working to pass that law. Now we’re expanding our efforts by joining with other survivors from around the world to fight for sharks globally.

We hail from Australia, South Africa, Ecuador, England, France, Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and from across the United States. Most of the survivors have lost limbs to the ocean’s mightiest predators. I was attacked in Florida, my home state, in 2004 and suffered a severed Achilles tendon, which has since mended.

Despite our traumatic experiences, we all believe these animals need our help. We’re hoping world leaders hear our message. If a group like us can see the value in saving sharks, can’t everyone?

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