Nuclear Sharks in the Marshall Islands

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One of the talks at SXSW Eco conference was Nuclear Sharks by Philippe & Ashlan Cousteau. Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of the famous underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau (scientist, filmmaker, conservationist, and researcher) and credited his grandfather for his love and passion for the ocean. I grew up watching, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" which helped promote human understanding of ocean life. It was an honor to see Philippe and hear about the work he is doing to continue his grandfather’s legacy.

Philippe and Ashlan were there to discuss their mini documentary for "Shark Week”. Their lecture was about the "nuclear sharks" in the Marshall Islands almost 60 years after the US's nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll.

For a little perspective...After WW2, from 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted over 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day. The largest nuclear-weapons tests were the 15 megaton detonation on Bikini Atoll. Its flash was seen in Okinawa, 2,600 miles away and its radioactive fallout was later detected in cattle in Tennessee. To this day the islands are still highly radioactive and uninhabitable.

Their mission was to investigate how the environment has been impacted decades later and the film carries a strong message about the importance of preserving marine life and the environment for present and future generations. As Ashlan stated" we completely destroyed the ecosystem, pretty much any living creature in the area. To go out there and to see the coral and the fish and the hundreds of sharks that we came in contact with was just absolutely mind blowing and it just goes to show, yes, nature can rebound". Philippe said” When we went into the water, we’d have 70 or 80 sharks swirling around us at any one time. It was just an absolutely spectacular expedition that confirmed the fact that the sharks had somehow repopulated the island.”

They tagged many sharks to monitor what's happening with them and how they got there and how they migrated. The dark side of their story is several of the sharks they did tag were captured and killed even though it's illegal to fish there. “Illegally half of the sharks that we tagged were caught by long-lining vessels, most likely for shark fin soup,” says Philippe. “That was a real big eye-opening, shocking experience.”

Only 1% of all oceans are marine protected areas or also known as "No take zones". Even then there is still illegal fishing as the area is so remote who can patrol it? Most of our oxygen to sustain life comes from our oceans. As Philippe has stated” “The oceans are the life support system of this planet, and the oceans are changing rapidly.” So glad I got to be there.

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