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On A Mission To Save Sharks
My name is Sara and I am a National Honor Society student in the 10th grade and I am an avid Shark enthusiast and conservationist and this is a story about our world and what is happening in it. I give up any spare time that I have to speak to anyone that will listen about the plight of sharks and the dangers that consequently we humans may be facing. Scientists right now are predicting that if the ocean continues to be overfished as it is right now, our oceans could come to a standstill in the year 2048. That is only 36 years from now. Are we willing to leave this kind of legacy to our children and their children? I started a not for profit charity last summer when I was 15. I have loved sharks from a very young age, and I have always been fascinated by them. Several years ago our family went to the IGFA in Dania Beach and we saw the movie “Sharkwater” by Rob Stewart. It was deeply moving and very profound. I can tell you that we walked out of that theatre crying. It was so sad to see how sharks are being treated. Cruelly hauled up out of the water, their fins cut off while they are alive and then thrown back in to the ocean to slowly drown. It was simply horrible.
There is no doubt about it, sharks have a bad reputation. Why, because who can see a 18 foot fish with rows and rows of teeth as being cute and cuddly and worth living when there are cuter things to love and embrace like dolphins and polar bears. You might think that without sharks there will be more fish, but in actuality the opposite is true. I know of two reports right now where because sharks are missing due to shark finning, there are no fish in one place and no scallops in another. This has affected the livelily hood of people working in this industry as well, affecting the economy. I turned sixteen this past December. My mom wanted to throw a really special sweet sixteen party for me. I asked instead to take me Shark Diving. I love to dive with sharks and my first dive with sharks was in Key Largo at Captain Slates, with nurse sharks. I have dived with eight different shark species in the Living Seas in Epcot in Orlando, white tip reef sharks in Fiji, Grey nurse sharks in Sydney, Australia and Caribbean reef sharks in the Bahamas. I coined the name “shark whisperer” from my first shark dive, where I could not stop hugging, holding, petting and even kissing the sharks and a woman on the dive, seeing this, when back on the boat said to me “I have never seen anyone with sharks like you were with them”. She said she thought that the sharks were “drawn” to me, as if they knew how much I loved them. I will be going to Isle of Guadalupe in Mexico to cage dive with great whites with the legendary Stan Waterman for his 90th birthday. Stan Waterman is an inspiration to me and I hold him in very high regard.
I had a booth at the recent Wyland organic green festival last year at Mizner Park in Boca Raton and I reached so many people and I was educating them about sharks myths and realities. I also raised $250.00 to donate to shark researchers and shark saving organizations such as shark savers. I have also joined a program called YEA – Young Entrepreneurs Academy – a 33 week long program where kids are taught how to run their own business or charity and at the end of the program we are given the opportunity to present in front of a board of investors that have a small amount of money to give to the businesses and the charities. I received a donation of $1,500.00 which was the largest amount donated. I also had a shark advocacy week at my school and in four days I raised over $2500.00.
I have worked with many different shark friendly charities donating my time and money to them, entities such as FAU Elasmobranches’ Dr. Steven Kajiura, University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Foundation and Dr. Gruber’s Biminis Biological Research Foundation, Shark Savers, Florida Keys Community College, United Conservationists and more. I recently gave an hour lecture to the students at my school, Boca Raton Preparatory and educated them as well. I was recently appointed the Florida Youth Leadership Ambassador for Shark Savers and I teache the Shark Counts program and I can teach this to local divers so that they can help with research for their organization.
I also recently was invited to attend the Florida Keys Community College Shark Expo and I was given a table at the event where I sold chocolate shark lollipops, shark cupcakes, and shark brownies and raised $160.00 for the FKCC foundation. The key note speaker for the event was Fabien Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s grandson. Myself and a few select divers were able to get to know Mr. Cousteau a little better while diving the Vandenberg wreck and I spoke to Mr. Cousteau about my charity and he commended me on my efforts.
I further spent my time going door to door asking for people to sign petitions for the recent ban on hammerheads and tiger sharks in Florida. I presented over 150 signed petitions to the Florida Wildlife commission at the meeting in Dania at the IGFA and I was there at the final meeting where the law was passed to turn in over 350 additional petition signatures and I spoke in front of the crowd there as well. I was the youngest one in attendance.
My career goals have never wavered. I want to earn a PhD in Marine Biology with a specialty focus in Shark Biology, I also want to be able to teach people how to get their scuba diving license and I am currently doing a sports performance program at my school where I am doing an internship at a local dive shop, Dixie Divers, where myself and the owner, Pavan Arltan are working on Shark Whisperers next petition, creating no take zones and marine sanctuaries for Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. I will also be learning to fly amphibious ultra light aircraft when I am 17 so I can do shark research from the air as well.
While most teenagers are busy with boyfriends, texting, gaming, face book, etc. I am busy trying to help save the world.
I have been in communication with Shark Diver Magazine owner, Eli Martinez and he has appointed me to his teaching team to support his goal of reaching one million minds to teach people the truth about Sharks. I am also looking for supporters and sponsors to help her me on my mission. Maybe this will ignite sparks for more kids to get involved to make a difference too.
SharkWhisperer.org is my website, the charity is totally run on volunteer time, no salaries to anyone.
Recent Media I have been in:
TV – Comcast Channel 78 Featuring a short documentary: Shark Whisperer of Coconut Creek also on You Tube and playing for the next few months
WPBT – TV Interview done at the Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale for their recent SHARKS exhibition
MAGAZINE: Life Publications & Sport Diver Magazine 2012 June Issue
RADIO: Ashley Owen, Sunday Mornings Along the Coast 97.3 FM Dangers Facing Shark