A Shark Fin Roof Top in Hong Kong...

The front line in the war against the shark fin trade in Hong Kong has shifted from the sidewalks to the roof tops.

Welcome to yet another oceans catastrophe.

This time it's on the roof top of Kwong Ga Factory Building, 64 Victoria Road, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, just in case anyone else would like to pay them a visit also. I know Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd already has. Nice work, Gary!

The theory goes that after being exposed at street level, they have now sought to move their activities out of the public eye to avoid further backlash.

And that means, rooftops.

Seriously, could anyone please explain to me why the Hong Kong government continues to do nothing about this problem?

These ignorant people act with utter impunity to the ongoing crisis in the world's oceans.

I've seen photos like this in Taiwan, but this is a dubious first for supposedly civilized Hong Kong, Asia's World City.

Quick disclaimer. The above photo is someone else's. It was the original photo that popped up on Facebook yesterday, taken by someone who was paying that industrial building a visit for other reasons, and who would prefer to remain anonymous.

Finally, here's a quick map to show how this factory building fits into the grander scheme of things.

It's a slick operation. Straight off the boat and into the warehouse. A minimal journey time on land. Once the fins arrive onto the wharf by sea, it's a quick and easy journey through the gates of 'China Merchants Wharf' (a private, not Marine Department, wharf by the way), and into the warehouse literally across the road.

The question is, where are these 'wet' shark fins coming from? What is the exact chain of custody? Somebody needs to do some digging. What can we do to stop this?


A Hong Kong Shark Fin Restaurant Gets A Visit...

Today saw a protest against the 'Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant' in Hong Kong.

The restaurant was singled out for shamelessly advertising their environmentally destructive dish in huge letters on a billboard outside.

Kudos to the girls at Hong Kong Shark Foundation for pulling it off.

HKSF dislike cruelty! HKSF dislike unsustainabilty!

After protesting outside the restaurant, the activists moved inside.

It took all of thirty seconds...

... before security arrived.

They got chucked out really quickly.

A lot of local media covered the protest, which was great.

Security freaking out!

Did you know that scientists estimate that the fins of between 26 and 73 million sharks are traded on an annual basis? Solely in Hong Kong, this accounts for about 50% of global imports.

It's a fact that according to a 2010 survey by the United Nations International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 143 out of a total of 430 shark species are listed as globally threatened, and 54% are at high risk of extinction now or in the near future.

The consensus in the scientific community is that this is being driven by overfishing - and of course the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup.


Philippine Fishermen, Hazardous Compressor Diving...

Every so often in the lifetime of a photographer, something comes along that is so truly awesome to shoot.

Welcome to the crazy, dangerous world of Philippine compressor diving.

Breathing through just a thin plastic air hose connected to a rusty air compressor on the boat above them, these fishermen dive down deep to 20m, 30m, sometimes 40m. Known in Tagalog as 'Pa-aling', this stripped down method of diving completely does away with regulators, spare regulators and mouthpieces.

Often exploited by their employers, workers suffer harsh work conditions, low pay, and non-existent safety standards. Injuries, and death are common.

The most usual cause of death is from decompression illness, or DCI.

Otherwise known as 'the bends', this arises when a diver ascends too fast.

Herding the skipjack tuna in the net, 'Pa-aling' is recognized as one of the most dangerous methods of fishing.

More than 200 nautical miles from land, and far from any decompression chambers or hospitals, these fishermen often stay at sea for months at a time.

For those who don't die, limb paralysis and migraines are common.

If something goes wrong with the hoses, such as a kink, leak or break, it's curtains.

Obviously the rusty compressor must never be allowed to break down or run out of gas.

Not withstanding the human rights and labour rights violations inherent in 'Pa-aling diving, this lethal way of fishing is a major contributor to the tuna overfishing crisis in the Philippines. Purse seine fishing boats from the southern city of General Santos are now fishing further afield. They fish in international waters now, as the seas around the Philippines are already overfished. And because this all takes place in on the 'high seas', i.e. no man's land, there's nothing anybody, government, or organization can do.

To gather these images I was spent a month on a boat with Greenpeace who are advocating a network of marine reserves to be established in four high seas pockets of international waters, and for these zones to be declared off-limits to fishing. The more I see of this kind of thing, the more it reinforces my belief that business interests are unfortunately winning the battle for the control of our lives and our natural environment.


Taiwan's Sacrificial Pigs & Goats...

From time to time in a photographer's career, morbid, fascinating subjects pop up. Ladies and gentlemen, boys & girls, please meet the sacrificial pigs and goats of the Biyun Temple on Xiao Liu Qiu island, Taiwan!

Temple offerings to the Gods...


Giant Jellyfish Blooming in South Korea...

Two weeks ago I was in South Korea. I had the opportunity of photographing giant jellyfish in the East Sea, off the coast of Ulsan and Pohang.

These huge jellyfish are over one metre wide.

And that's without the stinging tentacles.

According to Korean marine conservationists and scientists, these enormous jellies are blooming in the seas around the Korean peninsula as the oceans acidify due to the effects of climate change.

Bio-diversity loss is also believed to be causing jellyfish numbers to multiply.


But beautiful all the same...


Cathay Pacific Stops Trafficking Shark Fin!

Great news today from Cathay Pacific! This from a leaked internal memo...

CX (Cathay Pacific) to ban shipments of unsustainable sharks and shark-related products

News out 04 Sep 2012

As part of the Sustainable Development Strategy, Cathay Pacific has a policy on sustainable seafood which prohibits the consumption of shark and shark fin at company events and from being served inflight.

Today (4 September) the airline has taken the decision to stop shipments of unsustainably sourced sharks and shark-related products.  This means that, effective immediately, CX will not enter into any new contracts in this regard, unless it can be demonstrated that such products are derived from sustainable sources and can be independently verified through initiatives such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).   

The airline has decided to do this on the basis that there is very compelling scientific evidence to support that this is the right thing to do, given CX’s strong commitment to sustainability. 

Specifically, due to the vulnerable nature of sharks, their rapidly declining population and the impacts of overfishing for their parts and products, the carriage of these is inconsistent with the airline’s mission of being a socially and environmentally responsible company.

Cathay Pacific Cargo and the Environmental Affairs team have been working very hard on this issue and have established an advisory group that includes respected NGOs to review, from a scientific perspective, the current policy. 

The new policy will be implemented through notifications to shippers, new procedures and training for CX staff.  The airline estimates it will take approximately three months to make the transition, although work will be done as quickly as possible.  



A Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Open Day in Hong Kong...

Here's how the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) win the hearts and minds of the Hong Kong people...


Pepper Spray & Protests, Fifteen Years Since The Hong Kong Handover...


Hong Kong Shark Fin Protesters Target Chief Executive-elect CY Leung

Today marks the day that Hong Kong saw its second ever protest against shark finning.

The first was by Shark Rescue in 2009.

The kids were out in force today.

The protest was orgainzed by Hong Kong Shark Foundation.

After the rain, we had some nice light.

This little guy was really indignant! Full of passion!

The obligatory protest 'top shot'.

The protest passes the office of ADM Capital Foundation.

The demonstrators were targeting the incoming administration of CY Leung, Chief Executive-elect Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Shark Foundation are calling for him to take an active stand on the issue of shark fin by publicly removing it from all official Hong Kong government functions after he takes office on 01 July 2012.

There was laughter, but anger and outrage too.

A representative from the Government (R) accepts a petition to CY Leung.

The inevitable group photo.

Some kids from the American International School staged in impromptu 'plankmob'.

The weather was hot and steamy, so lying down on the tarmac all sweaty was probably not much fun.

I heard more than a few of those soft kids moaning about that!

A colourful scene outside the gates to Chief Executive-elect CY Leung's office at the Central Government Offices.

It was great to see the Civic Party in attendance.

Let's see if CY Leung includes shark fin in his first policy address in September...

The guy is a complete unkown, so who knows. Fingers crossed, eh?


A Portrait of the Western Pacific Ocean - Industrial Fishing and Natural History.

What follows is a monster blog post, a random potpourri of photos that I took in the Western Pacific with Greenpeace late last year, but have been too busy to upload until now. The broad aim of the trip on was to gather data on, and images of, the destructive industrial fishing methods used by international fishing corporations. A particular focus was on the insidious use of 'Fish Aggregating Devices', or FADs.  Also documented was a pristine coral reef in Palau. The below images are placed in the rough chronological order that I took them.

~ # ~ # ~

These pictures are from a hair-raising dive I did INSIDE a purse seine net that was targeting tuna fish, as the net closed in around me.

The photos above were taken as the net drew in tight. The pictures below were taken when the net was still 500m wide, showing the skipjack tuna still schooling. The visibility was not so good due to the plankton the fish were chasing.

Fishermen on board the purse seine fishing vessel scour the sea's surface for signs of schooling tuna. They look for birds feeding on the fish as well as frothy water.

A helicopter pilot takes a break from spotting schools of tuna from the air.

Fluorescent green dye is deployed to scare the tuna from escaping through the open side of the net as it is being set.

For the same reason, fishermen make crazy circles in high speed craft with powerful outboard motors to scare and confuse the tuna from escaping.

After the net is set around the tuna, workers winch it back on board.

This action closes the net around the fish.

This is what industrial fishing looks like.

The fish don't have a chance.

Tons and tons of tuna are hauled on board.

This is where canned tuna comes from.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the air is beautiful place.

On board a Taiwanese fishing boat. It seems new regulations in Taiwan now mean that the whole body of a shark must be landed with its fins.

Some progress at least, but still, the freezer of this fishing boat was over half filled with shark, mostly oceanic white tip, even though they were supposed to be targeting tuna.

A fin whale as seen from a helicopter.

A Chinese long-line fishing boat with its 'end-of-the-line' buoy and radio beacon.

The same Chinese boat being paid a visit by a pilot whale.

'Sik fan' time for the workers.

Bycatch is a big problem.

Especially for this ray.

The national flag of the People's Republic of China.

The captain and crew.

A silky shark in deep trouble.

It would have been finned for sure if I hadn't been taking pictures.

The Chinese employ cheap labour from the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Sailing into a storm.

A log makes a natural fish aggregating device (FAD), which teams with marine life.

Easy instructions on how to make a Taiwanese FAD. Get a broken plastic chair, some old fishing nets, ropes, a few plastic bags, some canvas rice bags, three or four bamboo sticks, and any other random junk you can lay your hands on. Then cobble it all together any which way you can. Finally chuck it overboard to attract tuna, sharks, turtles, and any other kind of marine life you can imagine. Easy!

Floating steel industrial FADs attract bird life. This is a gannet, or boobie, as the Americans like to call them, took flight as I approached to get this shot.

Right under the FAD, marine life puts on an extraordinary show. Silky sharks chase schools of fish.

FADs pose an extraordinary danger to the marine environment, and, quite rightly so, Greenpeace are seeking a total ban on their use by the fishing industry.

So from the deep, to the air. A pirate fishing operation is seen from 3,000 feet high.

An illegal purse seiner from the Philippines loads skipjack tuna onto an illegal cold storage vessel from Indonesia.

Neither boat were permitted to be fishing in international waters, but were doing so in broad daylight, and with impunity.

Greenpeace deployed a couple of rigid inflatable boats to go and paint the word 'PIRATE?' on the side of the hull of the illegal boats.

A waste of fish.

Turtle on a FAD.

Another hair-raising dive. This time in two knots of current in a storm. Hanging on to a rope for dear life, I shot this Greenpeace diver removing a FAD.

The strobe switched off makes the picture look more 'Ninja'-style!

The FAD was illegally positioned in international waters, so its owner has no recourse for legal action against Greenpeace whatsoever!

Arrival in Palau, passing thorugh a narrow channel in the treacherous reef.

Time to go diving on the Ngemelis reef.

Schooling jacks in bad weather.

Clown fish.

Then it was back to the blue. This time on a joint patrol in Palau territorial waters with the marine enforcement division of the Palau police.

Here's an illegal Philippine 'mother ship' outrigger, fishing illegally in Palau waters.

Luckily for them, they got away as a far juicier target appeared on the horizon.

A Taiwanese long-liner shark finning in Palau waters, in defiance of Palau's status since 2009 as a global 'shark sanctuary'.

A GPS unit duly recorded the position of the criminal vessel.

I recorded the incriminating evidence with a Canon 300mm f2.8 lense.

Spot the bag of shark fin, the finned shark body in the background, and the panicked look of guilt on the workers faces.

But soon it was business as usual, this time hauling a beautiful sailfish on board and hacking it to death. Sailfish doesn't even taste that good.

But my photos were good enough evidence for the Palau police to arrest the Taiwanese boat and its crew.

The boat was eventually impounded back in the port of Palau, and in February the owner was hit with a fine.

A successful example of an environmental NGO operating with a 'big stick'!

Then it was back to Palau again to continue documenting the pristine Ngemelis coral reef.

Manta ray.

A feathertail ray.

Manta ray.

Schooling jacks.

A red snapper and manta ray.

A school of red snapper.

Schooling jacks.

Schooling jacks and feathertail ray.

A manta ray with a sea cucumber.

A trevally tries his luck with a school of jacks.

White tip reef sharks.

Schooling jacks.

Reef sharks.

A really tiny mandarin fish.

A sponge.

A shallow coral reef.

Trumpet fish.

Yellowtail blue snapper and sergeant majors.

Giant clams.

Large bivalve.

I don't remember successfully ID-ing these fish. If anyone knows what species they are, I'd love to know!

I concluded my trip at the delightfully esoteric Ongeim'l Tketau, or 'jellyfish lake'.

Around the edge of the lake was equally enchanting, with its wide array of brightly-coloured soft corals and sponges.

The delicate beauty of a floating seed pod...


All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011