CHANGERS PROFILE-Adam Harman: MALDIVES WHALE SHARK RESEARCH PROGRAMME

If you know me and have been anywhere around me or this blog since I returned from my recent trip to the Maldives, you know (I’ve probably told you breathlessly over and over) that I had the astounding experience of swimming with a whale shark. (We’ve since deduced that it was likely “Ayesha” one of only four known females in the Maldivian region where we were–a juvenile female about 6 meters/18 feet long). I had looked into this program of researchers and advocates in the Maldives and the work they were doing with Whale Sharks before I went, and since getting home have exchanged a bunch of emails with Adam Harman at the organization. I think their work is not only fascinating, it is life changing, not only for the whale sharks, but for everyone involved. Dedicating yourself to saving life is huge.

ADAM HARMAN  is the Director/Trustee of the MALDIVES WHALE SHARK RESEARCH PROGRAMME Ltd (Registered Charity Number 1130369).

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) exists to conduct whale shark research projects and foster community focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives.

Adam has volunteered his time on a variety of projects around the globe over the last 16 years – from Villa Tunari’s animal sanctuary in Bolivia to ‘self build’ projects and the building of schools in Australia, Asia, and the UK – at the same time as gaining a wealth of business knowledge from the running of a successful business since 1997.

Growing up on Australia’s west coast, the Ocean has had a strong hold over Adam’s life. He became involved in the MWSRP in April 2008 and quickly realized it was his calling.

Adam’s principal interest in developing the MWSRP is to protect and conserve the whale shark and its habitat while ensuring the local community benefit from their natural resources through more than mere resort employment.

His interest as a field researcher is in answering the many whale shark unknowns – discovering and understanding what habitats are important to these magnificent animals, if they are the migratory species they were once thought to be, how they interact with other populations and species, and how they respond to short and long term natural and anthropogenic changes in those key habitats.

The MWSRP’s overall scientific objectives are to contribute findings to scientific literature and to education, conservation, and management authorities to promote science-based conservation of ocean life.

What was your awareness or experience with whale sharks before you started with MWSRP?
My love for the marine environment and sharks in particular, has stemmed from a very young age. I still take any and every opportunity to read about sharks or watch shark documentaries. But before becoming involved with the MWSRP, my knowledge of whale sharks was very basic. I certainly did not understand the issues the fish face, exactly how little is known about them, or how close to becoming an endangered species they are.

In a nutshell—what is the problem facing whale sharks? Why is the Research Programme needed?

Essentially nothing is known about whale sharks – how long they live, what their growth rates are, how many pups they give birth to, how often they reproduce, what their ‘migratory’ habits are, etc. coupled with the fact that the vast majority of whale shark encounters globally happen with immature male sharks it begs the question, “Where are all of the mature whale sharks and where are all of the female sharks in particular?”

Unfortunately the only known whale shark facts are the threats they face – continued illegal fishing, finning [whale sharks, like so many shark species, are caught and their fins brutally chopped off for Chinese “shark fin soup”], boat strikes (whale shark carcasses sink, making it impossible to know how many sharks are killed by boat strikes, but the harsh reality of the threat is displayed by the scars exhibited on the surviving individuals). The whale sharks using the Maldivian waters exhibit the highest percentage of scars in the Indian Ocean – most are anthropogenic by nature.

If these questions are answered, further protection efforts can be designed to ensure the world does not lose another species. “Extinct is Forever”.

Through the MWSRP’s research, some of these questions are beginning to be answered. The programme’s data has already provided the evidence required to successfully lobby for the Maldives’ largest Marine Protected Area – possibly the World’s most consistent whale shark ‘hotspot.’ Found in the South Ari Atoll and designed primarily as a whale shark sanctuary, it will help to ensure the survival of the whale shark.

Adam, Rachel Bott (marine biologist), Ben Fothergill (marine biologist), Richard Rees (Trustee/Director)”]What obstacles along the way almost stopped the project?
The biggest issue a new charity faces, especially in the current financial climate, is raising sufficient funds to be able to continue the ever important work. It is a sad fact but only a certain amount can be achieved through the team’s drive and determination.
The MWSRP is very lucky as they have the unrelenting support of the Maldivian community, Government, and tour operators within the country, which keeps political and any ethical issues to an absolute minimum.

When deciding to dedicate yourself to this, did family and friends support you or think you were nuts?
The majority of friends/family are very supportive of the project and the achievements we are working to realize, however, they do have concerns, namely our safety while in the water, in the vicinity of potentially dangerous species, and the financial constraints one faces when voluntarily developing a new charity.

How did you get to this point? What work or pursuits were you up to that led you here?
I was visiting my sister, who was working for Map Action, in Dominica, when I met one of the guys who founded the MWSRP as a research organization. We had a run-in with a bull shark, which quickly got us talking about sharks and his involvement with whale sharks in the Maldives. He offered me a volunteer position on the research team in the Maldives, which I could not refuse. At the end of the trip the guys liked my skill set, which included aspects they, as scientists and the organization, lacked at the time. We then began working on developing the MWSRP into a registered conservation minded charity.

The work is a natural progression from the voluntary work I was regularly doing in the UK. It is just on a much bigger scale now….and in the sun. It’s an amalgamation of my passions – helping people achieve their dreams, the ocean, sharks, and meeting new people.

What is your earliest memory of volunteering or dedicating yourself to someone or something else?
My earliest memory of dedicating myself to someone would be to my brother, if I had something then I made sure he had the same. To something would be to basketball. I played for town, county, and Country at various points of my youth.
The earliest memory of volunteering would be helping at school fetes for weekends, to raise money for charities.

Does the work of this organization ever end? Is there a measurable result that makes the need go away?
The charity’s work never ends (we need more hours in the day). If the whale shark mysteries are solved, the community has benefited from the MWSRP initiatives, and the eco-system is flourishing, [then] the team will already be involved in new initiatives (and there is no shortage of those being dreamed up).

How can the rest of us get involved if in the Maldives? What about from home?
To help the MWSRP cause:

The MWSRP offers a volunteer scheme, allowing students and professionals alike to become a member of the research team in the Maldives for periods of 2 weeks – 3 months. The beauty of this scheme: Volunteers are literally a part of the team, in and out of the water. It’s a great opportunity to further education by completing studies or if you are just looking for a different kind of holiday or to contribute positively to a destination most choose to exploit.

In-kind support is always welcome. All vocations can and are often utilized, from accountants to law firms, printers, and designers.

Fund raising initiatives include simply making a donation, utilizing the MWSRP JustGiving page (link here) to hold your own event (run a race, hold a dress down day at work, or a charity raffle…or the like).

Sponsoring a Shark’ is the newest initiative offered (sponsors will receive an invitation to name their shark, get regular updates directly from the research team, and a certificate and photos from each encounter with their shark will also be provided).

MWSRP t-shirts/rash vests and caps are available to help spread the word.

To help the Global shark crisis:
73 million sharks are being fished globally each year: stop buying and/or eating shark and shark fin products and be aware of the ingredients in the fish products you use. General research into the fishing and finning of sharks will help you make some educated decisions. Encourage friends to fish sustainably and never to take more than you need.

If not this, what? (What might you be doing if not MWSRP?)
I honestly cannot see myself doing anything else for the foreseeable future.

What has been the best reward for the work you do?
The best reward (speaking for the whole team) is the welcoming into the local Maldivian community. When we arrive on Male, Dhigurah, Dhidhoo, Maamigili, Fenfushi and Dhangethi Islands it is like we have returned home.

The announcement of the Marine Protected Area in the South Ari Atoll was another high point. Knowing the programme has the support of the Government and the tourist industry is a huge morale boost.

On an emotional level, being able to educate locals, tourists, and the tour operators about these fish is unbelievably rewarding. When a person acts responsibly while enjoying their first encounter with a whale shark, it’s magical. Their eyes tell the whole story and the team loves to relive their first encounters through them.

What has been the greatest disappointment along the way?
The greatest disappointment is when people just don’t get it. Everyone has a duty of care to the World (especially now). If choosing to holiday in a any destination, those tourists should make the conscious decision to contribute positively to that environment. It is a sad sight to see tourist exploiting their chosen destinations.

What’s next?
World Domination!!! Haha.

No, following up on the achievements so far. Ensuring the Marine Protected Area (MPA) becomes the first regulated, revenue generating MPA in the Maldives – protecting the eco-system and benefiting the local community.

Providing more education opportunities for Maldivian students is high on the priority list. There are only 19 islands in the Maldives (a 1196 island archipelago) that offer [school] years 12 and 13, making it almost impossible for students to achieve their dreams of becoming doctors or marine biologists.

http://www.maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org/

 

Ayesha

8 responses to this post.

  1. […] the original: CHANGERS PROFILE-Adam Harman: MALDIVES WHALE SHARK RESEARCH … Share and […]

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  2. […] November 2009 (100)October 2009 (32)September 2009 (230)August 2009 (1081)July 2009 (1634)June 2009 (996)May 2009 (287)April 2009 (260)March 2009 (312)February 2009 (287)January 2009 (339)December 2008 (275)November 2008 (106)October 2008 (55)September 2008 (31)August 2008 (25)July 2008 (10)June 2008 (17)May 2008 (24)April 2008 (9)March 2008 (19)February 2008 (19)January 2008 (9)December 2007 (13)November 2007 (20)October 2007 (8)September 2007 (12)August 2007 (8)July 2007 (3)June 2007 (6)May 2007 (8)March 2007 (3)February 2007 (2)January 2007 (8)December 2006 (10)November 2006 (12)October 2006 (7)September 2006 (4)August 2006 (2)July 2006 (2)June 2006 (2)May 2006 (1)December 2005 (1) Frontline research with Whale Sharks is critical and none more so than at remote sites like the Maldives.Enter the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program. We featured these guys and their terrific outreach website earlier this year as a template for other research sites interested in well networked and well defined public access sites.This week we stumbled across a Q and A with team members about their work and the need for shark research in the Maldives.A very good read. […]

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  3. Way to Adam!!! We need people like you in the Maldives to protect species like the Whale Shark!

    Reply

  4. Posted by jason Harman on May 5, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    hey cuzzzz.

    Good to see that you are doing well, and doing what I love..
    Unfortunately Whale Sharks are way to timid for me, nothing beats the power of a set of razor teeth and brute strength.

    have to catch up..
    I want to go to South Africa to volunteer for the Great White Shark programme. and I will get there..
    Keep up the great work mate.
    your Cuz from WA
    Jason

    Reply

  5. Posted by Richard Brown on August 2, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    Hi there
    I was wondering if you’d allow me to use the image of the whale shark on your site (ayesha.jpg) for Leisure Boating Magazine South Africa. I’d appreciate it greatly and we’ll make sure to credit the photographer appropriately.
    Please let me know.
    Kindest regards,
    Richard Brown

    Reply

  6. Posted by Andrew Mersmann on August 4, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Hi Richard–I love that shot of Ayesha (the expert team assumed she is the shark we encountered). The photo was provided to me by the folks at the Whale Shark Research Programme–so I need to refer you to them: http://www.maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org/

    Good Luck!

    Reply

  7. […] I’ve had the memory-of-a-lifetime experience of being in the water with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and can’t recommend volunteering with these folks enough. Science rules the excursions, but the pure joy of encountering such grace will be what you carry with you long after you get home (see previous blog posting here). […]

    Reply

  8. Great work from the guys of the Whale Shark Research Programme.

    Nowadays the expeditions to go to see the whale sharks in the south of Ari Atoll are getting quite crowded, let’s hope the whale sharks are not going to leave the area.

    Reply

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