Johnson City Press: Sharks, bears and the environment: What can you do?
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Sharks, bears and the environment: What can you do?

Jonathan Roberts • Jun 24, 2019 at 7:52 PM

Often times there exists a disconnect between knowing what’s really dangerous in the ocean, and what’s not. There’s also a challenge of educating people on ways they can actually help the ocean, and on Monday former East Tennessee State University professor Diane Nelson set out to change that.

Speaking to about two dozen attendees inside the Memorial Park Community Center activity room, Nelson shared photographs and personal testimony about marine animals she’s encountered on dives and in her research and some of the misconceptions about them.

“It’s just being aware (of the animals), here we have bears and you could have a bear walk through your neighborhood, you could be attacked or killed by a bear — but the probability of you being bitten by a shark is less than that,” Nelson said. “You have to realize that’s a possibility, but the possibility is very minute.”

Sharks were a big topic during a discussion that featured more than a dozen examples of animals, primarily due to the misconception that sharks are violent and because of overfishing, which has forced more than 25 species of sharks to the endangered species list.

Shark finning is a “tremendous waste,” Nelson said. “If you remove sharks — you remove the top predator — then your other fish populations become unhealthy, sharks are just important for the whole ocean.”

Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, and Canada recently became the first G20 country to ban the import and sale of shark fin entirely. But, it remained on the forefront of discussion throughout the lecture, as did the environment.

“In our everyday lives we have to be mindful of what we are doing,” Nelson said. “We have to eliminate plastic straws, we can eliminate plastic bags — things like that that we can do that can be very helpful.

“People like the convenience of things, so you have to give them something that’s convenient and if the grocery stores are moving toward eliminating plastic bags, then we’d all have to have cloth bags,” she said. “Once it starts, it will snowball, so we have to get more and more people involved in starting it.”

During a question and answer session following Nelson’s lecture, one attendee asked what everyday people can do to help curb ocean pollution, citing concerns about the current administration’s changes to environmental protection policies and guidelines.

“They’ve made changes to the (Environmental Protection Agency), and that in itself has a chain reaction, so what can we do?” one person pleaded.

“One thing is education,” Nelson responded. “You have to know what the facts are, there’s no such thing as alternative facts, you should be talking about it with other people, contacting legislators.”

Then, Nelson tried to put the concerns facing the oceans and environment into broader perspective.

“Our air is important, our water is important, we have to preserve those to preserve human life,” she said. “You cannot have a planet that just has humans on it, we can’t survive without the other plants and animals that are here.”

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