Sea Shepherd, founded in 1977 by Canadian Paul Watson, is known for for its campaign against Japanese whaling ships. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sea Shepherd, a self-described “international direct-action ocean conservation organisation” has dropped anchor in the UAE waters with a view to spreading its 40-decade legacy of protecting marine life around the world, said officials on Monday.

With the Gulf waters under pressure from regional development and overfishing, the new chapter says it will focus on environmental awareness, fund-raising and marine conservation.

Known globally for engaging Japanese whaling ships on the high seas to stop the illegal slaughter of endangered whales, dolphins and sharks, Sea Shepherd said its new UAE chapter received approval to register in the UAE in September.

Paul Watson, Canadian founder of Sea Shepherd — who was also an early member of Greenpeace in the 1970s — said the group’s ocean fleet of nine ships confronts illegal marine poaching and harvesting to protect dwindling fish stocks and pods of vulnerable marine mammals.

“Sea Shepherd Global is an anti-poaching organisation dedicated to operating within the boundaries of international law, to uphold international conservation law, with a commitment to absolute non-violent tactics,” said Watson on the group’s website.

The group reports that “illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem that threatens the health of marine ecosystems as well as the livelihood of coastal fishermen. Legal fishing operations that observe quotas and by-catch laws are already forced to compete for fewer and fewer fish, yet an estimated 15-40 per cent of the total global catch is caught illegally.”

A growing segment of illegal ocean harvesting includes shark fins to feed an demanding market in the Far East where the fins are used in brothy soups as a delicacy.

Under the watch of the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, shark finning was declared illegal in 2011 in the UAE and fins can only be harvested and sold from landed whole sharks. The UAE is not a major harvester of local Gulf sharks despite it being listed in recent years as the fifth largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong.

At a shark conference in 2012 in Dubai, the ministry said most of the 500 metric tonnes of shark fins exported to Hong Kong annually from the UAE were comprised of imported fins from other countries in the region. Of the 2,000 metric tonnes of sharks caught each year in UAE waters, only 60 metric tonnes were said to comprise shark fins.

Natalie Banks, Managing Director, Sea Shepherd UAE, told Gulf News on Monday that the new chapter will work to promote marine conservation in Gulf waters and is backed by an energetic bank of global staff and volunteers.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in conservation in the Gulf,” said Banks, a certified dive instructor who has worked on shark conservation efforts in her home country of Australia and here in the UAE since 2008. “Since we were certified in September, we have been focusing very hard on awareness campaigns on areas such as conservation.”

Part of the chapter’s efforts in UAE will focus on environmental awareness campaigns regarding plastics and other debris in the Gulf and their detrimental efforts on marine life.

Banks said in an official announcement on Monday that the chapter looked “forward to working with the UAE Government and stakeholders to defend, conserve and protect local marine life and the marine environment in the UAE. We have an amazing team with an enormous amount of passion for marine conservation and expertise in shark and dolphin conservation as well as measures to reduce, reuse and recycle items which largely end up as marine debris in our oceans.”

To officially celebrate the new chapter, Sea Shepherd UAE will gather its volunteers and supporters at an inauguration event at Dubai Offshore Sailing Club on December 1 which is expected to draw veteran crew members Trevor Van Der Gulik and Asian Sea Shepherd Director, Gary Stokes, as guest speakers.

Fast facts

* Sea Shephered was founded in 1977 by Canadian Paul Watson

* Organisation has a global fleet of nine ships

* Committed to upholding international conservation law