THINK ON THESE: All about sharks

THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. TacioI didn’t cover this year’s street dancing of Kadayawan Festival, which I had been doing for more than a decade now.  The reason: I was invited by teacher Chris Leyga to speak before a group of students and pupils of Davao Christian High School.  The topic, on science writing, was close to my heart and so I accepted the invitation.

After speaking for two hours, I asked them to write a science piece based on House Bill 7912 which Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo filed.  I had given them two-page explanatory note of the bill that tries to save and protect the sharks from swimming in our waters.

Reading their outputs, I was completely surprised that they were able to come up with good write-ups.  Allow me to share some of them.  Here’s what Jaz Diamond Kiang, a Grade 5 pupil, wrote: “Are sharks a threat? Are sharks dangerous to our marine ecosystem? Those are all the questions we always ask ourselves. But keep in mind that all those questions you are all asking are the total opposite of the truth. Sharks may seem scary, evil, or a threat but in reality, they are vulnerable and scared.

“Sharks are actually such huge help in our ecosystem because as stated in House Bill 7912, ‘they help keep prey population healthy by feeding on week, sick, or old fishes, and prevent overgrazing of critical marine habitats.’ And, they also help balance the population of some marine animals which, believe me, is such a gigantic help to the marine ecosystem.”

Gabriel Teves, a Grade 8 student, titled his piece: “Sharks and rays shouldn’t go away.”  He penned: “If you did not know, sharks and rays are extremely important in maintaining that natural marine ecosystem. They control the population of their prey, prevent overgrazing, and serve as an important part of the natural ecosystem.

“Therefore, on July 9, 2010, the House Bill 7912 was introduced in the House of Representatives which is ‘An act regulating catching, sale, importation and exportation of all sharks, rays, and chimaeras and any part thereof in the country.’”

According to him, many marine animals including sharks and rays are vulnerable to poaching. “Another factor threatening sharks and rays is that they both reproduce slowly,” he wrote.  “The bill states declined population will find it hard to recover without special conservation attention.”

Dana Elise Pasaje, a Grade 6 pupil, had several questions in mind: “Are sharks a threat to us humans? Do we think sharks are important?  The Philippines has over two hundred species of sharks and rays, but why do we need to preserve them?”

She answered those questions with a quote from the bill’s explanatory note: “Despite the lack of understanding on the sharks’ various roles in our ecosystem, it is clear that they are key players in structuring food webs, whether they are at the top of the food chain or at lower tropic levels.”

She described sharks “as apex predators,” which means “they are a predator at the top of the food chain with no natural predators. They keep their prey healthy by eating only the weak, sick, or old fishes, and they help prevent the overpopulation of other groups of prey.”

She believed that if we remove sharks from ecosystem, it “has the potential to create significant changes to predator-prey interactions, affecting the whole system.” Aside from this, sharks and rays also help in our country’s tourism, and “through fisheries in many developing countries.”

This is the reason why, Samantha Mascardo, another Grade 6 pupil, thinks sharks need saving, too. “Sharks are actually key players in structuring food webs, whether they’re at the top of the food chain or at lower level,” she wrote. “Prey populations are kept healthy because the sharks feed on weak, sick or other fishes that could cause overgrazing of critical marine habitats.”

But the problem is: “the population of sharks are decreasing due to the catching, selling, purchasing, importation and other things that could attack them in a bad way.”  This is the reason why House Bill 7912 was introduced by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Representative of the 2nd District of Pampanga.

“For us to live with these creatures in peace and harmony, we need to follow this act accordingly,” she urged. “Some people disregard the fact that without sharks, the food web they’re involved in will be disrupted. Thus, leading to imbalance.”

“Save the sharks, save the country,” was the title of Francine Cassandra Unlay’s feature.  “When one mentions sharks, what typically comes to mind are these monstrous, merciless and vicious predators,” the junior high school student wrote. “But in fact, they help keep prey populations healthy by feeding on the weak, sick, or old fishes.

“For centuries, sharks are given malice simply because of how they are portrayed in movies – their bloodlust, gnashing teeth, and terrifying eyes. But as a matter of fact, there are various types of sharks. There are over 200 different species of rays and sharks and humans have only explored 10% of the ocean.

“Due to sharks and their relatives having historic traits of slow reproduction, they are vulnerable to threats. The importance of sharks is being underestimated. So, by any means, prevention and alleviation of catching, selling, purchase, and possession of sharks and rays shall be acted upon.”

Let me end today’s column with this feature written by Kenn Ulrich Yap, a Grade 9 student: “Imagine a world without sharks. What will happen to the food chain? How will its prey be affected? Will there be an imbalance in the population of marine animals?

“The Philippines is located at the apex of the Coral Triangle, a roughly triangular area consisting of nearly 500 species of corals, making it a huge factor in the global marine biodiversity. Housing over 200 species of sharks and rays, the archipelago nation plays a crucial role in the conservation of ecologically and economically important species.

“Without sharks, the marine ecosystem will be entirely different. As apex predators, they keep the food chain balanced and the population of marine animals properly proportioned. The absence of sharks in marine ecosystem will result in significant changes in the food chain, as well as overgrazing of critical marine habitats.

“Sharks typically reproduce slowly. This trait makes them particularly vulnerable to threats from human activities such as fishing, pollution, unregulated tourism, and climate change. Due to the likely declining populations, it will be a different task to recover sharks without special conservation attention.

“The government has acted in this certain issue, through the House Bill No. 7912 filed by Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”