Proposed Waa Whale Shark project Opposed in a Public Hearing
Africa Network for Animal Welfare ( ANAW )
28. May 2013
—————–Note by Shark Year Magazine :
The following ANAW news release provides an update on the previous post
Ill-Advised Tourism ‘Adventure’ Threatens Kenyan Whale Sharks
The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) organized a public hearing on the Waa Whale Shark project at Waa girls Secondary school in Kwale County. Members of the public were asked to give their opinion on the project based on the Environmental Assessment Impact (EIA) report that was submitted to NEMA by the East Africa Whale Shark Trust led by Mr. Volker Bassen.
Before the meeting, people were seen in groups as if strategizing on what to say about the EIA. Two young people decided to display their support for the project in a placard written;”Our visitors welcome to Waa and please support our Waa whale Shack Conservation Project.”
Presided over by Isaiah Kyengo from the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), the hearing began with those in favor of the project highlighting why the project should be allowed to proceed.
Citing its merits, the Project Proponent, Volker Bassen, said similar projects are successful in Japan and Georgia. “In Japan, the project has been operating successfully for 30 years while the biggest aquarium holding whale sharks is in Georgia.”
Juma Bakari a Waa Fisherman and a member of Beach Management Authority (BMU), supported the project by saying that together with other locals, he understood the benefit of the project since Mr. Volker had explained to them its benefits. He cited employment saying that besides jobs in the ticketing office and feeding the sharks, around 60 people will be engaged as beach boys. “If we do not accept the project, it might be taken to Zanzibar” he said with a tinge of sadness.
However, it emerged that the EIA is silent on the welfare of the whale sharks. To affirm this Wachira Kariuki from the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) said that basic freedoms of the sharks will be abused. “The animals’ freedom from discomfort, fear and distress and to express normal behaviour would be infringed upon” he said.
It was interesting that when Wachira asked whether any of the community members had read the EIA, none of them had even seen a copy of it. But what was more intriguing is that although some of the community members expected lots of goodies from the project, some of the promises made by the investor were not based on any formal agreement.
Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet. While their huge size and gaping-mouthed appearance can be terrifying, they are nevertheless docile plankton feeders that pose no threat to humans. As migratory animals with complex breeding and feeding patterns, they are protected under various international wildlife laws and conventions. They are known to engage in deep-diving at regular intervals to depths in excess of 1,200 metres.
In its EIA, Seaquarium says that it will enclose two whale sharks for 6 months each year, in a round netted area measuring 150 metres in diameter and at a maximum depth of 14 metres. This is opposed by ANAW and other animals welfare groups who say that the ‘cages’ will hardly replicate the normal habitat for the animals as they would restrict their horizontal and vertical movements.
“It is also important to note that the capture of these animals is a stressful procedure which causes them discomfort, fear and distress” Wachira noted.
On her part, Raabia Hawa, an animal welfare campaigner and media personality, challenged the community members to calculate the benefit of what they might be getting and compare it with the investor’s profit. She also expressed opposition to the project saying that keeping the animal in captivity would be against the Islamic Law, which many of the Waa community belong to.
Others who opposed the project were Dr David Obura, a marine biologist, and Aaron Nicholas, a conservation manager with the Born Free Foundation. In his submission Dr Obura expressed concern that the welfare of the sharks “was the last thing on the mind of the investor.”
“The proponent must publicly and transparently show…. adequate knowledge and competence – scientific, veterinarian and ethical – in handling and caring for such a magnificent creature.” He continued; “who comes to Kenya to see elephants, or any of the great five, in captivity…let us not undermine our global reputation for this project.”
But Bassen downplayed his lack of experience on handling whale sharks saying, “we need to show case this majestic fish the way we show case our rhinos and elephants in order to inspire the desire to conserve them.”
Related Video by ANAW :
Volker Bassen explains how he intends to capture the whale sharks that are going to be captive for 6 months in a circular enclosure if NEMA approves the project. This information was conveniently left out of the ESIA and is a crucial bit of information showing in fact how cruel the actual capture process is – sending the whale sharks into a state where there heart can literally stop. According to Volker this is NO big deal!