GO BEYOND WITH CONSERVATISTS

Juan & Ocean

Beyond prejudice

For most of us, ‘swimming with sharks’ is a metaphor for danger and risk. But for Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant, it is a daily job and a lifelong passion. Through education, striking photographs and cage-free diving tours, they bring people and sharks closer together, so that we can see our fellow apex predators clearly and without prejudice, before they disappear.

OCEAN RAMSEY

TEDx Talks: How sharks affect us all

Sharks on a world wide scale suffer under their reputation as brutal killers. They are close to extinction due to human prosecution. Ocean Ramsey explains why they are a valuable and fundamental part of the oceans´ eco-systems and encourages everyone of us to help saving them... for our own good.

Beyond barriers

Freediving, without cages or heavy equipment, brings them closer to the animals and to nature. Experiencing and sharing this direct connection is the first step to valuing and protecting the ocean and all its creatures.

Follow Ocean on all her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

The mission

What would you do if your best friend was in danger? You’d do everything in your power to defend them, spreading the word and marshaling forces to protect them.

Ocean Ramsey faces this challenge on a daily basis – with an unexpected twist. You see, Ocean considers some of her very best friends to be sharks. As in, the toothy marine predators. A marine biologist and champion free diver, Ocean has been fascinated by sharks for as long as she can remember. Now that sharks are in danger, she’s devoting most of her time to teaching people to go beyond their prejudices and see the creatures for what they really are: elegant, intelligent beings that have been around for longer than the dinosaurs. Sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem, and Ocean is determined to get the message out.

Juan Oliphant

“We can co-exist, but in order to co-exist, they need to exist.”

But why sharks? Aren’t they savage and blood-thirsty? Despite what movies like Jaws would have you believe, sharks actually pose very little threat to humans. Shark attacks only account for about 5 to 7 fatalities a year – you stand a higher risk from death by ants (30 a year). What sharks do, instead, is to work as the ocean’s immune system. They weed out weak and dying animals, leaving behind healthy ones to reproduce and strengthen their species.

In a world where the shark populations are endangered, you can see the changes at every stage along the oceanic food chain. Fewer sharks mean greater numbers of small predators, which mean fewer herbivorous fish, which means that algae populations run wild, which puts coral reefs in danger. This impacts everything down to the air we breathe. And the changes can be felt on a human scale as well: decreasing shark populations have an economic impact on industries ranging from seafood to tourism.

"70-100 million sharks are killed off every year, with up to a third of shark species facing endangerment or extinction."

So, it’s clear that sharks need our help. But what threats do they face, exactly? As apex predators, a role they share with more popular species like lions and bears, they have no natural enemies. Simply put, the answer is humans. It’s estimated that 70-100 million sharks are killed off every year, with up to a third of shark species facing endangerment or extinction. They’re up against trophy fishing, long-lining, and culling. Sadly, though, the biggest threat to their existence is also the most frivolous: shark fin soup.

Prized as a symbol of wealth and prosperity, shark fin soup is a traditional delicacy in China and Vietnam. Ironically, the shark fin itself holds no nutritional qualities and doesn’t bring anything more to the dish than texture, but the craze for it accounts for up to 73 million shark deaths a year. This number has been decreasing as the word gets out about the environmental impact of shark fishing, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Shot by Juan Oliphant: Ocean Ramsey diving with sharks.

Some countries, like Israel, the Bahamas, and Palau, have outlawed shark hunting, and have already seen returns. They’ve all found increases in their fish stocks and reefs, along with a rise in eco-tourism. This is all just going to keep on growing. As Ocean puts it, “a live shark is worth more than a dead shark.” But there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Ocean has devoted her life to studying shark populations and working on changes to legislation. A key question, though, was always been how to spread awareness to the public at large. No matter how much research she did, or what legal changes she helped put in motion, people still clung to the same of perception of sharks as scary and blood-thirsty.

So what to do? Ocean’s best friends were at risk, with all odds stacked against them. She needed to find a way to turn public opinion around. So she went online, where she came across marine photographer Juan Oliphant’s gorgeous underwater photos, and realized that capturing pictures and creating shared experiences was the key to going beyond the public’s preconceptions.

Inspired by this new approach, Ocean decided to make a full-scale assault on the public’s opinion of sharks. She opened up her research, inviting divers to contribute any data or photos they had of sharks they encountered in the wild. These findings helped contribute to a growing database of information about sharks, helping to track their migratory patterns and record their numbers in the areas they inhabit.

Ocean ramsey swimming with sharks.

On social media, she collaborated with Juan to create content around her work. The first piece, an eye-opening video of her free-diving with a great white shark, gathered more than 5 million views. This instantly caught the press’ attention, leading to interviews and a brand new platform for Ocean to talk about her cause. Finally, she brought the underwater experience directly to the people with the foundation of One Ocean Diving, where she and Juan take people on dives with sharks.

Visits to One Ocean follow a simple formula – clients receive a lecture by a marine biologist about sharks’ habits, ride out in a boat to their habitats, and then get into the water for a cage-free diving experience with them. They end up spending around 45-90 minutes in the water, getting a face-to-face experience with the sharks.

"A whole new peaceful side to these magnificent creatures that are being wrongly portrayed in the media."

The results have been overwhelmingly positive – a scan of One Ocean’s Yelp reviews shows rave reviews of the experience, saying that the dive shows “a whole new peaceful side to these magnificent creatures that are being wrongly portrayed in the media.” And, most importantly, for every person who has a great experience on a dive, there is a new ambassador in the world, helping to get rid of the prejudice sharks face and speaking about all the good they do in the world.

Ocean doesn’t want people to fear sharks. They’re amazing, awe-inspiring creatures, who deserve our respect and protection. As she puts it, “We can co-exist, but in order to co-exist, they need to exist.” She’s working on creating a world where people can look beyond prejudice and work for change – and we should all be working on it, by her side.

Follow Ocean on all her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!