Unbeknownst to most people, one little ingredient found in many well known beauty brands and cosmetic products - ranging from anti-aging creams, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, eye shadows, lipstick, lip balms, sunscreen and cleansers - contributes to the death of millions of sharks annually.
Unlike most fish species, sharks don't have a gas filled swim bladder to control their buoyancy underwater, alternatively they use an oil in their livers. It's this oil - known as squalene - that is actively being harvested with current estimates suggesting that about 2,000 tons of squalene is derived from shark livers each year.
A sharks liver takes up significantly more space inside their bodies than the livers of most animals. The size and ratio of a sharks liver varies depending on the depth they inhibit. As such, shark species that live in deep water are preferred as they tend to have bigger livers - sometimes making up 25 percent of their body weight and filling up to 90 percent of their body cavity!! One species particularly targeted is the basking shark - where a single shark can provide over 2,000 litres of oil!
Most deep sea species prefer colder water temperatures and often caught in the North Atlantic Ocean as well as in Australian and New Zealand waters.
So why are beauty brands contributing to the killing of so many sharks for their liver oil?
Squalene has properties that coats the surface of the skin and assists with retaining moisture. It also softens the skin and smooths its surface, so skin looks and feels healthier. Squalene does this without creating a greasy or sticky feel. In addition, it’s also found to be an effective conditioning agent for hair. It conditions by coating and smoothing the hair cuticle so that hair feels softer and looks shinier and healthier. It also has the ability to enhance the penetration of other ingredients in cosmetics. So of course, it's understandable that beauty brands would want to use squalene in their products, it provides a range of benefits to our skin and a better product.
Before you despair and think that you've got to make the decision between never wearing make up again or continuing to contribute to the slaughtering of sharks, there is a better way - hooray!
Squalene also naturally occurs in some plants and is able to be derived from olive oil, wheat germ oil, rice bran and amaranth seeds and palm oil but it comes in smaller quantities and is harder and more expensive to extract. Despite the extra effort and cost required, two cosmetic giants, L’Oréal and Unilever agreed to stop using shark liver oil as a base for moisturising creams and lipsticks. So rejoice, you can still keep yourself looking great without harming our sharky friends by looking for words such as ’100% plant-derived,’ ‘vegetable based’ or ‘vegetable origins' and if unsure, do some research first.
So please, become an informed consumer - don't unwittingly continue the demand for products responsible for the death of millions of sharks annually. Instead, spend your dollars wisely by supporting brands that recognise their social responsibility and are making positive changes.
Don't forget, if you really want to take a stand, you can sign the petition that calls for the ban on the sale and use of shark and shark products in New Zealand, which is open to receive signatures until 31 December 2018.
I can hardly believe it...... and not in a good way either .....
Back when we 'didn't know any better' whales were nearly hunted to extinction. Since they are big, slow and trusting - they were easy targets and their numbers were decimated, no species was safe. Finally, in 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) put a ban on commercial whaling. Since then, whales have slowly, very slowly been able to repopulate and increase their numbers.
When the ban was put in place in 1986, by 1987 Japan had launched a program called JARPA II which allowed them to continue to hunt whales for "scientific purposes" due to a loophole in the agreement. In 2010, Australia applied to the International Court of Justice accusing Japan of failing to “observe in good faith the zero catch limit in relation to the killing of whales”. It was a four year campaign to prove that Japan's whaling was not in fact for scientific purposes and the court ruled (12-4) that Japan halt their slaughter of whales under their JARPA II program. So what did Japan do? Found another loophole of course! They soon commenced whaling again under the new and very similar program called NEWREP-A.
According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, since the 1986 ban, Japan have killed more than 15,600 whales in the Antarctic (including juveniles and pregnant whales). Norway have killed more than 14,000 minke whales and Iceland have also killed 1,800 whales. That's nearly 31,500 whales killed while there IS a ban in place!
The IWC are meeting this week in Brazil and Japan have put forward a proposal that would lift the ban on whale hunting and allow them, and others who choose to partake, to hunt commercially again.
Kate O'Connell from the Animal Welfare Institute has recently said "We're only just beginning to grasp the vital role whales play in maintaining the health of the world's oceans," . "Weakening the ban now would be a fatal mistake, and would open the doors to increased commercial whaling around the world. This cruel and unnecessary industry is a relic of the past that has no place in modern society. All other contracting governments to the IWC must step up to vigorously defend the moratorium from this new assault by Japan and its allies."
I am truly hoping that the IWC will do the right thing and leave the ban in place. Our oceans and all species that call it home are already under enough stress from humans - we don't need to add another all out slaughter to the mix.
If you would like to make your voice heard in support of keeping the ban in place, you can sign the petition that will be presented to the Chair and Secretary of the IWC here:
Whitebait has always been known as a New Zealand delicacy and traditional kai with many kiwis eagerly awaiting the season where the juvenile fish arrive each year to swim upstream.
Whitebaiting season began on 15th August this year.
Fisherman are allowed to catch our "white gold" even though whitebait stocks are at critical levels. The fish are native to New Zealand and most species are listed as endangered, yet they are allowed to be fished commercially and there are no set catch limits.
I became aware of the plight of our whitebait populations during a paper I took on 'New Zealand Environments' where we were to research a native species. Being passionate about the ocean (which wasn't an area to choose from but rivers were), I chose our native freshwater fish species - galaxiidae.
In New Zealand, the galaxiids (so called because of the patterns on their skin, which resemble a galaxy of stars) are more commonly known as whitebait, but this actually only encompasses 5 species, of which there are currently ~26. Only two of the species, the Inanga and Koaro, are not endemic to New Zealand, and currently eighty percent of these species are listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable status (2017 DoC report).
Galaxiidae are both diadromous (spending some of their time out at sea) and non-diadromous (freshwater only). The breeding cycle of the diadromous galaxiids sees them migrate downstream in autumn and on the spring high tide the females lay their eggs. As the tide recedes, the eggs are washed onto the nearby shores of estuaries. The eggs are then exposed to the atmosphere for the coming weeks and depending on the conditions and the tides, they hatch within two to four weeks where the fry (young fish) are then washed out to sea on the next spring high tide.
The juvenile fish (what is known as whitebait) spend winter out at sea, returning in spring to swim upstream to mature. The dorsal fins of galaxiids are located at the rear of their bodies, which are used for propulsion to allow them to have rapid acceleration for short periods, helping them to swim through rapids upstream - even waterfalls don’t seem to be a problem for these small fish as they manage to climb using their fins to hold the rocks. They can climb surprisingly high using this technique, allowing them to get further upstream.
So, what are the threats to our native fresh water fish and why do I think that we need to stop commercial whitebaiting?
Over the last 100 years, New Zealand has lost approximately 85% to 90% of its wetlands, which has had a significant impact on the galaxiid population. Habitat loss due to drainage, deforestation and the intensification of land use is thought to be the biggest factor contributing to the loss of the species. Where waterways have been altered and/or dams and pipes put in place, it has made it difficult for the galaxiids to continue their journey up stream or additionally, it allows access for new fish species to be introduced into the environment that can create competition for the native fish or allows them to become trout food.
Water degradation can arise if stock ‘runoff’ is allowed to enter the water, which can cause a change in the water quality of the waterways. This can see the streams become uninhabitable for the fish to live in due to poor quality. Vegetation is an important feature of the galaxiids environment as it provides them cover for protection and attracts the flies and other invertebrates they feed on and much of the vegetation around waterways has been removed. Aquatic weeds have also been wreaking havoc on New Zealand’s waterways and on the habitats of these fish by altering the ecology of their environments and strangling out native species of plants.
Remember, 80% of the 26 species are currently listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Habitat loss or modification, water degradation and predation are all major factors in their decline which is compounded by the fact we allow commercial fishing of these juvenile fish with no catch limits set in place. Additionally, as the fish caught are juveniles, we are unable to distinguish which species are caught.
To give our native species a fighting chance of survival, we need to protect them and allow their populations an opportunity to recover. There are many things that need to happen in order for this to be possible but we should not cause further stress by allowing them to be fished freely each year.
Whitebait is the only endangered species you see on the average menu, something Forest and Bird’s Cohen says is morally and practically wrong and I must say, I strongly agree with him.
So New Zealand, I'm sorry to say it but please, no more whitebait fritters!
The PADI International Women's Dive Day event I organised this year was a great success!
Who doesn’t love some good news?!
Looking for a real challenge this July?
Hands down the best thing I have ever done!
Calling all ladies to join us for PADI International Womens Dive Day this year! We will be hosting a free local shore dive (location dependent on weather) along with a BBQ and bubbles (post dive of course!). There will be games and prizes on the day as well as some amazing store deals!
We will be doing a 50% discount on rental gear on the day ($40 instead of $80) so there is no excuse not to come along and join some like minded ladies for a couple of fun dives. All experience levels welcome as we will have instructors and dive masters hosting the event.
If the weather decides not to play nice, we do have a back up plan so keep the day free and come and join us!
Please register here if you would like to join us and we look forward to seeing you on the day!
If you have any questions, please call Auckland Scuba on (09) 478 2814.
Warm, sunny days may be a distant memory here in New Zealand as the dreary winter days have well and truly set in. Sigh. So this one is for any Northern hemisphere readers (or those lucky enough to be going on holiday to the warmth!) who, as the days start to heat up, you are going to need to buy some sunblock to protect you and your family.
You may not realise that most common ‘off the shelf’ sunblocks are actually hiding a nasty secret. Oxybenzone (found in over 70% of sunscreens) is currently the number one dirty toxin used in chemical based sunscreens which is absorbed by our bodies and can be harmful to both us and our precious marine life.
As well as being better for our health, there are many benefits to choosing a “reef safe” or environmentally friendly sunscreen. Here are a few reasons to get you thinking….
Although we may not have abundant coral reefs here in New Zealand – other countries certainly do. It’s been proven that Oxybenzone directly affects corals by contributing to coral bleaching and possibly even more scarily, it also sacrifices the lives of 25% of marine species and entire ecosystems! More than 200 studies have provided evidence of the toxicity of nanoparticles in aquatic organisms.
Sunscreens have been found to be a culprit of contributing toxic chemicals into the environment. UV filters and other components such as UV stablizers have been found in the tissue of marine organisms and are known to kill microalgae.
Reef Safe sunscreens eliminate oxybenzone and protect your skin by using zinc oxide which is a mineral that sits on top of the skin, scattering, reflecting, and absorbing UVA & UVB rays.Zinc oxide has come a long way from the brightly coloured paints we used to smear across our noses and is the safest and most effective natural and active sunscreen ingredient and is not found to pose a threat to coral.
So when you’re out looking for a new sunscreen, try to find one that is biodegradable as this is more likely to have the double benefit of being reef friendly. Although there are no specific tests at the moment to determine if a sunscreen is reef friendly, any sunscreen that promotes they are biodegradable has to have certification of this from approved laboratories.
Remember that every drop counts, and if everybody continues to lather up in chemical based sunscreens just think about how many drops of oxybenzone will keep contaminating our oceans with a huge impact on our marine life, not to mention your own health. Slip, slop, slap and wrap – by being environmentally friendly!
To give you a helping hand, I’ve done the research for you and found three great options to make the switch nice and easy :