Tiger Beach: An Underwater Paradise Worth Protecting
If you have ever watched Shark Week, then you have probably been introduced to Tiger Beach. Located 20 miles from Grand Bahama Island, this beach is not like any other on the planet. The white sand here is not littered with sun chairs and umbrella adorned drinks, but instead with a natural aggregation of apex predators. Massive tiger sharks cruise up from deeper waters and enchant divers with up close encounters and underwater thrills. The shallow depth and incredible visibility make this an ideal location for filming and photography. This shark diving Mecca draws divers, film makers and scientists from across the globe.
I have been fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time at this underwater paradise. As a dive guide, videographer and shark naturalist, I have been able to share these incredible animals with people and capture images that inspire compassion. Each trip is completely unique as the underwater conditions and animals change each time. There are certain sharks that have gained celebrity status because they are consistently seen year after year. Emma, a massive tiger shark, even has her own Face Book page. There is also a troop of lemon sharks that shows up, again with several that I have personally seen from year to year. There is a male lemon with a Casey dart tag (scientific tag inserted just below the dorsal fin identifying the shark) and another that we call “Lumpy” because of the hook scar that has formed a lump on the right side of his mouth. We also see the occasional nurse shark or Caribbean Reef out there. If you are really lucky a great hammerhead might swim through for a visit. It is amazing to see the contrast between lemon and tiger sharks. To too many people a shark is a shark is a shark, but think of the dwarf lantern fish at 8 inches long and a 40 foot whale shark. Yes, they are both sharks, but they might as well be from two different planets.
My most recent trip to Tiger Beach was as a dive guide for “The Undertaker” (professional wrestler) and his son. We had a beautiful day and saw our first lemon shark as the anchor dropped. Within 30 minutes one lemon shark had turned into ten and the dark shadow we were all hoping for, appeared in the distance. Tiger sharks are cautious animals and take their time approaching the activity. This particular tiger is one I have seen before and many of the regular divers at the beach know her well. Less than a year ago she became the victim of a fisherman’s hook leaving her jaw disfigured on the right side. She is very skittish and never got closer than 30 ft from us. Most of the sharks get so close you cannot take a picture because all you get a solid blur. She stayed with us for several hours, only approaching the boat when all divers were out of the water. She is rather skinny compared to most of the ladies and with her behaviour, it is clear that she is struggling. It is devastating to see such an amazing and powerful animal reduced to such a fearful state. This is the capacity that humans have on the animals of the planet. We can remove their magnificence in a single heartless act. We laugh at the magnitude of evolution’s creations and cast it aside like the garbage in which we are littering our planet
Sharks have gained a lot of attention in recent years often with scuba divers at the helm of conservation movements. Sharks are apex predators that keep our oceans healthy, in turn keeping us healthy. Without them the oceans will die and the human population will suffer. All of our actions or inactions have consequences. We all have a voice; we just need to speak up. Although people travel from across the world, spend a great deal of money to see these animals and the location is featured on countless television programs and documentaries, Tiger Beach remains unprotected. There is no policing, no marine sanctuary; only a few dedicated souls that offer their best efforts to keep this Eden and its inhabitants alive. There are game fisherman seeking world records, commercial fisherman and annoyed anglers that lose a fish to a bigger fish. These people have no respect for sharks, only a narrowed view of their purpose on the planet, or lack there of.
The Bahamas, however, are facing a far greater threat in the form of an international fining corporation that is lobbying for the right to fish for sharks in Bahamian waters. I am not a Bahamian, nor are most of the visitors to Tiger Beach. Bahamians or not, we care about these animals and we care about our oceans. Bahamians have joined the fight, along with conservation organisations, the Bahamas National Trust, dive operations and shark lovers around the world, to protect these animals from those who threaten their survival. It is a powerful movement and remarkable to see so many people from so many backgrounds joining together for a common goal. This needs to happen more often. The power of our voices is strengthened when we all speak in unison. The fight is on to make all of the Bahamas a shark sanctuary following success of similar establishment in Palau and Raja Am pat.
If you have never slipped beneath the surface at Tiger Beach, I whole heartedly encourage you to put it on your “must dive” or “Bucket List.” If you have been fortunate enough to experience this destination or you care about sharks and the ocean, I encourage you to speak up. Speak for these animals that do not have a voice. Speak up so that people opposing their existence will hear. Lemon sharks are now protected in Florida because people spoke up. Hawaii has banned shark fining because people were not afraid to fight.
We can make a difference. It is not too late to save our seas!
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