Every time Greg Nowell, diver and initiator of Sharklab- Malta and his wife went for holidays in Malta, they used to talk about how awesome it would be to live here in one of the world’s best divemetropol. The water in Malta is so clear that it’s just your vision that determines how far you can see. Six years ago, they decided, now or never. However it would only take 3.5 hours to get back to England, about the same time that it takes to get from one end of England to the other. The move to Malta was not such a big step as they thought.
When the company Greg worked in England decided to establish in Malta, it was natural that Greg was asked to be a representative, already having knowledge of the industry. He works in electronics and in his spare time, he runs the worldwide non-profit organisation Sharklab with other passionate volunteers. Today, they have established partnerships with the University of Malta, Malta Aquaculture and Research Centre with cooperation at the fish market and the fisheries protection directorate and of course a lot of divers
From a networking groupmember on Facebook we could see that Sharklab-Malta were organising an educational event which I and my children aged 11 and 15 years visited on Tuffieha Bay this weekend. There we met Dave and Pam Mason, a hardworking elderly couple who showed off Sharklab’s collection with everything from a small preserved baby sharks to shark teeth. We were told that if a sharks tooth was knocked out, they are replaced quickly by one lying ready behind and we could see in the jaw how their were extra rows of teeth that roll out like a conveyor. Although some of the teeth are large and sharp, and despite all the horror movies about sharks Pam did tell us that sharks are not very dangerous to humans, but that of course we should be cautious. Pam told us a story about a diver whose camera became the focus of a sharks curiosity after a while it tasted the camera swimming away with it a short distance but realising it was not food spat out the camera and swam on without paying any attention or touching the diver.
In the rare instances that people have died through interactions with sharks this has not been because the shark wants to eat the person, but if the shark cannot tell what something is the last sense it can use is taste. When a large shark tastes a person, a lot of damage occurs and we bleed. Sharks do not eat people what happens in most cases is the person drowns or dies to excessive blood loss. These instances are rare and on average only a small number of people each year lose their lives this way, even though thousands interact with sharks each year. Statistically speaking your more likely to come harm using your electric toaster or doing DIY than your are interacting with a shark.
A man comes up to the Sharklab tent on the beach and tells Pam that a fisherman yesterday caught a small shark by hook along Dingli cliffs. In reality most sharks are no bigger than a man, and half of those are less than one metre. The waters along Dingli cliffs are deep and it is possible small species of sharks do inhabit these waters as few fishermen target that area, which means that potentially there is a good supply of food. Finding where sharks live and travel is difficult and even with all of the research being undertaken by Sharklab information and sightings are limited. . Like other members, sightings around the island are really important boaters and divers can go on the website and record their observations. All of this will help to better understand what is happening in our waters.
Sharklab trying to find out where and how sharks and their relatives live, how they travel, and which species need to be protected in order to reproduce. Many are caught before they reach reproductive age occurring as late as 5- 10 years for blue sharks and other species of sharks the age is greater. One of the biggest problems is that people do not have the correct facts about sharks or how important a role they play in our waters.
To get the correct facts and information on the state of sharks Sharklab-Malta members regularly visit the fish market in Valletta to gather landing data. Sharks are very common at the market and only a few species are protected. For fishermen, sharks are simply a resource to earn money. Attitude and knowledge needs to be change as without sharks in our waters the marine eco system will continue to suffer.
Sharklab has members and volunteers in 17 different countries. Each local Sharklab team runs itself based on local conditions and these vary from place to place. The largest is here in Malta, mainly because of Greg’s dedication and passionate interest that attracts others. Sharklab-Malta is the largest team in the global organisation with its 90 members and a mailing list of more 300. Members get invitations to all activities and events. There are 20-25 members who are very active and even though sharks are rarely seen around the Maltese islands members are dedicated to making a difference and teaching people about these misunderstood animals. Around Malta the biggest cause of low shark numbers is due to overfishing, many sharks get caught in trawl nets and on the Tuna and Swordfish longlines.
Sharklab is completely independent and receives no government grants therefore sponsors, donations, volunteer work and community involvement are an extremely important factor. As a member, you do what you’re good at and contribute to the extent you can. There is no age limit. You just need to be a little open minded and interested. Sharklab train communicators and it is about to engage in research, reach out to the next generation with facts and information about the misunderstood sharks and other endangered species such as rays, skates, guitar fish and Chimaeras. Many of the members are young people who want to make a difference in the future. The elderly are more difficult to change their habits in order to spare or save on finite resources. I’m glad we reside us on the north side of Malta that still have large natural areas.
You can become a subscribed member for €20 adult or €10 student/child and you will be welcome to attend Sharklab-Malta’s various events. Everything from information sessions, barbecues on the beach with evening snorkelling and diving to different events and expeditions depending on experience to help identify marine habitats and endangered species. Through partners and sponsors, you as a member of Sharklab-Malta are eligible to get discounts on scuba diving courses and snorkelling and dive gear. As a online member, you pay nothing, repressing information but do not have access to other activities. At the Ramla Bay, Gozo and in Tuffieha Bay you can meet both Sharklab-Malta and Gaia foundation. There is the opportunity to see shark jaws, eggcases and maybe even try snorkelling. Again there will be a marine life display where last time we caught a small Octopus, or as my son did last weekend catch a relative of the seahorse to contribute to the days learning experiences. Every hour on the hour you can go with the boat on a tour of the coastline with a talk about different marine life, areas to be protected and why we need to keep working together to make changes. There is no cost but do not forget that donations are important to the organisation’s work and survival.
Read more about Sharklab-Malta
The Sharklab-Malta calender
How to become a Sharklab-Maltian