Getting up close and personal with sharks

Anyone who knows Guy Harvey knows the man is a friend of the shark.

But a new documentary shows him getting up extremely close and personal with the marine creatures he says get a bad rap.

The documentary, This Is Your Ocean: Sharks, will be shown Thursday, 1 March, at Hollywood Theatres in Camana Bay. There will be two free showings of the 45-minute film, one at 6.30pm and another at 7.45pm.

It was filmed almost entirely in the Bahamas during a five-day period.

“The Bahamas are not that far away. The issues we address are very relevant to what we are experiencing here in Cayman. Also, it is a showcase for these animals, not as the man-eating monsters that people are led to believe they are by the press,” said Mr. Harvey, an artist and conservationist.

“This documentary completely overturns that perspective and you will see these creatures in an entirely different light,” he said.

Mr. Harvey, along with artist Wyland and shark expert and diver Jim Abernathy, star with the sharks in the documentary, which was directed and produced by Emmy award winner George C. Schellenger and narrated by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle.

The documentary addresses the “value of living sharks in the Caribbean,” Mr. Harvey said.

As well as value from a conservation point of view, he has also put a monetary value on sharks in the Bahamas where eco-tourism and interactive shark diving is big business. Last year, the Bahamas made $80 million from its interactive shark diving tourism.

Mr. Harvey said he had done a similar evaluation of how much stingrays are worth to the Cayman Islands tourism industry, determining that each stingray is worth about $300,000 a year, with the creatures worth between $6 million and $10 million in their lifetime.

Putting a monetary value on marine life could be the best way of convincing governments to change laws to ensure sharks and other threatened species are protected.

Mr. Harvey said after government ministers in the Bahamas was made aware of just how much revenue a single shark could generate among tourists, the local laws were changed to protect sharks from commercial fishing.

“We did a presentation about March last year to the government of the Bahamas to help them understand the benefits of live sharks to the economy as opposed to commercial fishermen killing and selling them,” he said.

Although there is no commercial fishing of sharks in Cayman, there are plenty of cases of incidental killings, he said, because local fisherman do not respect sharks and often kill them when they encounter them.

“There is also the fact that there is so much overfishing of sharks in about every country in the world and the species we see in Cayman are highly migratory, so the numbers are very seriously depleted,” Mr. Harvey said.

“The numbers are appallingly low and it is time now, in the absence of a National Conservation Law, for the Marine Conservation Law here to be amended to protect shark species,” he said.

He hopes one day soon, interactive shark diving will be allowed again in Cayman. It was a sport that was previously available in Cayman, but following some shark attacks in Florida in 2001, those diving tours were suspended.

Meanwhile, he invites people in Cayman to develop a greater appreciation and less fear of sharks upon watching the documentary, which shows Mr. Harvey and his fellow divers interacting closely with sharks, especially one, 14-foot tiger shark called Emma, who has befriended Mr. Abernathy during the past nine years.

Everyone who attends Thursday’s screening will receive a free poster showing the five most common sharks seen in Cayman waters.

This is Your Ocean: Sharks had its world premiere last year at the prestigious Newport Film Festival. Tonight’s viewing will be the first time it has been screened in Cayman.

The Cayman premiere also kicks off three days of celebration to mark the fifth anniversary of the Guy Harvey Gallery in George Town. On Friday, 2 March, an invitation only event will be held, followed by a free open day at the gallery between 10am and 2pm on Saturday. The open day will include activities for all the family, including a bouncy castle, raffle prizes and giveaways.