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The Emperors Last Meal

Documenting the fight to save the apex predator of our oceans; Costa Rica.

The Earth Angels team heads to Costa Rica to tell the tragic story of dwindling world shark populations and the fight to save the apex predator of our oceans. Since the 1950’s we have lost 90% of sharks from our oceans, if we lose the apex predators, we in turn will witness the collapse of the ocean ecosystem in our lifetime, sealing not only the fate of our oceans, but life on earth as we know it. 

The ecosystem is like playing dominos on a grand scale. The carry-on effect of losing an apex predator, such as the shark, means the rest of the ecosystem would soon follow suit.

  1. We would lose all coral reefs; algae grow on coral, which is eaten by herbivorous fish. Herbivorous fish are then eaten by larger predatory fish which are eaten by sharks. When sharks are in decline, less of the large predatory fish are eaten, which means that more of the herbivorous fish are eaten, and in turn, less of the algae is eaten. The algae compete directly with the coral, too much algae kills coral reefs, which are the nurseries for all fish life on earth.

  2. The ocean would suffocate; after we lose sharks and coral reefs we would then have giant algae blooms forming in the ocean due to the imbalanced food chain. Algae blooms suck the oxygen out of the water creating low oxygen levels. Without oxygen, marine life will suffocate to death, killing all living things in the ocean.

  3. We would considerable speed up climate change: The oceans help regulates the carbon cycle of the planet. Coastal ecosystems store about 50% of the world’s carbon. Sharks are a crucial factor in keeping that carbon stored. The carbon is stored in marine plant life, and without sharks many of the animals that eat these plants would no longer face a predator threat. So, their populations would grow and end up consuming too many of these plants, releasing a flood of carbon into the atmosphere.

  4. The next ice age begins; after the ocean is dead, 50% of the worlds carbon is released in to the atmosphere. Due to giant algae blooms the ocean would also stop being the largest carbon sink for the planet. The currents would then stop and plunges us in to the next ice age.

Due to over-fishing conservative scientific estimations predict that we are on track for world-wide fisheries to collapse by 2048 thus starting the above explained cycle. If this happens the upside is, we won’t have to wait 100 years to witness the devastation of sea level rise.

Earth Angels tell this important story through the eyes of scientists, environmentalists and activists fighting on the frontline, in a race against time to save the shark. Following scientists and activists in to the field to give a much-needed voice and inspire adoption of a different perspective on an animal that is universally feared and misunderstood.

Earth Angels will tell this story through the visual documentation of work done by the not-for-profit organisation Fins Attached. Travelling on the Shark Water expedition vessel to witness first-hand environmental protection efforts and the illegal fishing trade alike.

100% of the proceeds made from the distribution of this film will be donated to the Fins Attached not-for-profit organisations research and protection efforts.

The Earth Angels expedition to join world leaders of shark conservation on their mission to save the shark is a once in a lifetime experience. The opportunity to participate in the making of the film, catch and tag live sharks, interview and education sessions with world class marine biologists and join activists on their heart-breaking journey to save the shark will not be repeated.

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PART  1 – INTRODUCTION

Shark Fin Soup has its origins in the Ming Dynasty and was a delicacy only to be served to the emperor and his guests. The emperor believed that offering shark fin soup at banquets showed how powerful, wealthy and generous he was. Serving this dish came to be seen as a sign of respect, class and wealth. 

The rising Chinese middle class, enjoying a growing expendable income, has provided the fishing trade with a massive rise in demand for the delicacy. So much so that the projected numbers of shark fins moving through the Hong Kong markets alone are now ranging in the staggering figures of 26 to 73 million fins annually, according to statistics from WildAid.

Through the hard work and dedication of scientists, conservationists, volunteers and activists we are now seeing a sea change in the Chinese market for Shark Fins. The Chinese government no longer allows shark fins to be served at official government functions, which is a huge step forward. A number of airlines, including Qantas, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have also got on board to help prevent the export and trade by refusing to transport shark fins.

However, the fight is not over. China’s reduction has unfortunately been accompanied by a complicated network of fishing traders around the world, cashing in on lucrative shark fin catches, including but not limited to: The United States, the EU, Trinidad, Tobago and Costa Rica. It’s a question of demand driving sourcing. When there is a demand the source will be found, thus the fight to save the shark continues.

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PART 2 – THE SHARK

Sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem as part of a complex system of checks and balances. As apex predators they are at the top of the food chain. Many sharks prey upon wounded or sick animals, keeping the populations of various species healthy and in balance, while others scavenge the ocean by feeding on dead animals or by filter feeding. Hunting sharks to extinction will have a catastrophic effect on the world’s ecosystem. Millions of sharks are killed every year. Many sharks also fall victim to finning, the practice of cutting the shark’s fins and then discarding the still-living shark into the sea to die.

With the exception of a few countries that have instituted national measures for their shark fisheries or protection for individual species, there are virtually no controls on shark fisheries around the world. There is an urgent need for management and monitoring to be instituted at the national, regional and international levels to prevent the extinction of species and populations.

The problem sharks face is that they are slow growing and give birth to only a handful of pups. Due to this reproductive strategy, sharks cannot keep up with the pressures put upon them from commercial fisheries. They simply cannot reproduce fast enough. Some species of sharks have been reduced by more than 95%.

Sharks are exploited for their meat, fins, cartilage, leather, oil, teeth, gill rakers and jaws. They are directly targeted in some commercial and recreational fisheries and are caught incidentally as bycatch in many other fisheries. We must act now to change the human perspective on sharks in order to save them.

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PART 3 – FINS ATTACHED

The not-for-profit organisation Fins Attached conducts research, promotes conservation, and provides education for the protection of the marine ecosystem.

They believe in the preservation of our world’s precious resources and that through the protection of the oceans apex predators, marine ecosystem balance can be maintained for the benefit of all living things on earth.

The health of any ecosystem is controlled largely by its apex predators. So, while their work aims to impact the marine ecosystem as a whole, much of their research is focused on the apex predators of the marine environment, the shark.

Fins Attached is comprised of scientists, companies, organizations, and people concerned with the health of the world’s oceans. The scientists that represent Fins Attached range in backgrounds from divers to Ph.D. marine biologists.

As a result, they direct their efforts in the following categories:

  • Shark Research

  • Shark Conservation

  • Public awareness and education

  • Advocacy – Affecting international policy to protect our oceans

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PART 4 – POACHING AND PROTECTION EFFORTS

Efforts to create a marine protected area around Cocos Island fell through, earlier this year.

Two years ago, former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís made international news by committing to a 4,000-square-mile expansion of the marine protected area around the extraordinarily biodiverse water Cocos Island Marine Park a UNESCO World Heritage site located 330 miles (532 kilometres) off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The shark-rich region is plagued by illegal fishing and shark finning operations. But on leaving office last May, Solís failed to enact the protection conservationists say is needed. The proposed marine protected area (MPA) would have benefited Costa Rican fishers in the long term, but local fishing interests threatened to shut down ports and Solís backed down. 

Longline fishing is a deadly type of fishing that consists of setting a main line with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks and then indiscriminately catching, harming or killing whatever swims into the line.

This practice is draining the seas of endangered marine wildlife. Air breathing endangered sea turtles that swim into the lines will often drown as they are unable to come up for air, while sharks that must swim to force water to the gills are also unable to stay alive when caught.

Furthermore, longlining inside the protected marine reserves and national parks is especial egregious as it puts vulnerable and endangered marine wildlife populations in extreme danger, and leaves the zone littered with fishing gear. 

Earth Angels aim to highlight the consequences of long line fishing practices and the governments struggle to protect its natural resources. 

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PART 5 – SHARK TAGGING AND RESEARCH

Research on sharks has been slow and inconsistent. There are two main reasons; one is the remoteness and inherent dangers and difficulties of studying sharks in their natural habitat, and two, the lack of funding. However, we are beginning to understand sharks and their behaviour, where sharks go and why they go there. For example, satellite tagging of whale sharks has demonstrated that this species can be highly migratory traveling across ocean basins. Knowing that a species is highly migratory means it more susceptible to fisheries in areas where it is not protected. Acoustic tags have also been used to study sharks in a particular area to determine their residency status. Acoustic tags are attached to the sharks and receivers are placed on the sea floor so that when a shark with an acoustic tag gets close the receiver stores the data transmitted by the tag.

It is important to not only understand shark migratory patterns, but to also identify nursery areas where sharks go to give birth. Marine protected areas (MPAs) must be established to protect these nursery areas so that the young sharks have a chance of surviving to adulthood.

Both satellite and acoustic tags can be equipped to record depth, temperature and location information. This kind of science requires a tremendous amount of money, and this money is usually not available unless the end results could lead to useful applications and profits. Research into sharks for their own sake is more difficult to fund. However, this is essential for their survival. The scientific data is needed to back-up any conservation argument.

It is the aim of Earth Angles to raise money for the following research:

  • Shark Tags deployed on the expeditions are internal acoustic transmitters with a unique identification and serial number, these transmitters can come with temperature, depth and pressure sensors.
    Cost: $400 to $900 USD per tag.

  • Satellite transmitters, referred to as Spot Tags and Mini Pat Tags. Spot tags are positional and temperature tags that are bolted to the dorsal fin of the shark. The antenna transmits its position when the shark breaches.
    Cost: $2500 to $4000 USD each respectively.

  • Submersible research vessel to identify new shark nurseries that will inform the decision-making process for new marine protected sites (MPA’S) world-wide.
    Cost: $2,500,000

PART 6 – THE ILLEGAL FISHING TRADE

Costa Rica is renowned for its green policies and practices however there is a dark underbelly lurking in political shadows that could allow the release and exportation of tons of illegally caught shark fins on to the free market. This would not only be a black mark on the Costa Rican governments otherwise glowing environmental reputation it would increase global demand for shark fins and in turn ensure the further demise of world shark populations. 

Interviews will be conducted with key players including scientists, activists and government officials culminating in a press conference calling for the warehouse of shark fins to be burnt.

100% of the proceeds made from the distribution of this film will be donated to the Fins Attached not-for-profit organisations research and protection efforts.

CREATIVE TEAM ATTACHED

The independently operated multi award winning filmmakers, talent and crew Earth Angels Agency and MAAT have partnered with, have created films that have been nominated for Academy Awards, won multiple Emmys, have been a huge force in the largest film festival market including top awards at Sundance, Cannes, Berlin and Toronto. Their films and TV projects have screened in theatres, television networks, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, globally as well as at The White House, The Pentagon, The Vatican, DAVOS and universities around the world.