Archive for cocos

CNN Planet In Peril – Shark Finning Segment

Posted in conservation, news, production, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2008 by shawnheinrichs

CNN’s latest installment of the Planet in Peril focuses on shark finning, and the shark fin trade. There is no animal on earth more vilified than the shark.

Pop culture references and annual, over-hyped reports of attacks on swimmers or surfers have put sharks on the top of the list of the world’s most feared living things.

I worked closely with CNN to develop the story, shoot the critical footage, and bring this issue to the masses.

CNN Planet In Peril – AC360 Blog

Posted in conservation, news, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by shawnheinrichs

Program Note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle.

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

The world needed to see what I witnessing

Shawn Heinrichs

Founder & Executive Producer, Blue Sphere Media

I broke the surface having just completed the last day of diving on some of the most incredible reefs I had ever seen. Floating in the deep blue waters, I looked around and surveyed the dozens of forest covered limestone islands that surrounded me.

This was truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was filming the reefs in Raja Ampat off the western tip of Papua in Indonesia, one of the most remote and biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the planet.

Cruising back to our camp, we noticed a small fishing boat anchored in a shallow lagoon within the protected area. Curious, we decided to investigate. As we drew near, we made a grizzly discovery. On the blood soaked deck, covered with buzzing flies, were dozens and dozens of shark fins that had recently been sliced off of small reef sharks.

Looking into the water, an odd shape at the bottom caught our attention. Immediately we identified it as the body of a shark. It took all my willpower to control my feelings of anger and frustration. And then I recalled, where sharks should have been abundant on every protected reef, we had not seen sharks the entire week. Now it was clear why. It was also immediately clear what I had to do.

The world needed to see what I was witnessing.

Flipping my video camera on, I documented the gruesome reality of what lay strewn before me: the fins, the blood, the flies, grisly contradictions to these magnificent surroundings.

Loading my camera into my underwater housing, I threw on my snorkel gear and slipped into the water. Below me strewn across coral reef were a dozen, dead juvenile reef sharks rolling gently with the current. Descending down, my stomach turned as I saw the blood seeping from wounds where their fins had been. These beautiful sharks had been ruthlessly sliced and thrown overboard to drown, killed just for their fins.

After filming all I could stomach, I returned to the boat. Enraged, I wanted to do something. Certainly this reckless harvesting must be illegal. Our guide Andy then informed me that the fisherman had presented a legal shark fishing permit which for $30 granted him the right to fin sharks for 30 days. Quick math revealed 10 sharks per day times 30 days, or 300 sharks for $30.

Ten cents a shark!

This was the price for the life of each of the juvenile reef sharks below me on the reef. But what was the cost on the marine ecosystem and the local community that depended on it?

Something changed in me that day, something that would grow inside and drive me to dedicate my life to ending the short-sighted destruction of marine environments and first and foremost, by halting the shark fin trade.

So much of what I have learned about the oceans, I have learned while diving and filming. Much of what we watch, read and hear about marine life is only a shadow of the reality. For many people, the closest they come to this world is a seafood restaurant or sushi bar.

Take sharks for instance, one of my favorite subjects. We are taught to believe sharks are mindless killers, that even a drop of blood will send them into a feeding frenzy and that most species of sharks are “man-eaters”.

These myths couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have drifted with schools of over 500 hammerhead sharks and watched as 100 reef sharks formed hunting packs at night. I have knelt within touching distance while a dozen bull sharks, some more than 1000 pounds and 11-feet long, fed on fish. In all my dives with sharks, I never witnessed a deliberate attempt by a shark to injure or kill.

Sadly, however, I have also watched sharks disappear from the oceans. Sharks were once plentiful, but they have effectively vanished from all but a few remaining sanctuaries. And even within these “sanctuaries” they are being systematically targeted and killed for their fins. Fins!

Fins make up less than 3-5 percent of a sharks’ total mass, the other 95 percent is either thrown back in the ocean or used as a cheap by-product. Only small strands of cartilage from the fin are used, the rest discarded as trash. These cartilage strands are boiled and used as a flavorless thickener, like thin noodles, in a watery soup flavored by chicken stock. Shark Fin Soup.

Once popular on special occasions among the ultra-elite in Asia, the recent economic boom in China coupled with intense marketing by the shark fin trade, has fueled an explosion in demand for the soup.

More than 100 million sharks are killed every year primarily for their fins. In the past 20 years, many of the great shark species populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent. If nothing changes, sharks are heading on a one way road to extinction.

So what if we remove sharks? Slow to grow and slow to reproduce, sharks have perfectly evolved for 400 million years to keep our oceans in balance by removing the sick and managing populations. Remove the sharks and the populations of faster growing predatory fish they control explode and wipe out successive layers in the food chain.

The ecosystem has been in place for more than 400 million years, but man is wiping it out in less than 50 years. Close to 1 billion people depend upon the ocean for their livelihoods and survival. What will happen when these people lose their jobs or go hungry? That is why sharks matter.

In the developed world, our consumption behavior is disconnected from its impact on the environment. Most of us don’t know where our fish comes from, how it is caught or raised, and what waste products it produces. The oceans are being effectively strip-mined, by some of the most destructive and wasteful fishing practices imaginable.

The result: sharks along with all other large species of fish have been largely fished out of most of the seas with hardly any notice or public outcry. And now, we are fishing our way down, removing successive layers in the food chain.

As part of my documentary I am filming on the global shark fin trade, I spent a week in Raja Ampat. This region was once one of the most ecologically diverse and pristine marine ecosystems left on earth. Just a few years ago long-line fishermen were pulling out a dozen or so 1.5 meter long reef sharks in a single day, but now they catch almost nothing except a handful of baby sharks each week.

Most of the shark fishermen have moved on to find new shark fishing grounds. The shark fishermen that remain now use miles of bottom drift nets instead of lines. These nets scrape off the coral reefs and catch everything in their path including baby sharks, reef fish, turtles, rays and manta rays. The situation has clearly hit rock bottom for sharks and the outlook for the rest of the ecosystem is not good.

After a week of documenting desperate fishermen plunder their dwindling resources, I spent the latter part of my visit filming in the Marine Protected Area surrounding Misool Eco Resort, where I had originally encountered shark finning.

A few years ago, I saw no sharks in this region, but now I observed young reef sharks patrolling the walls and reefs. And a dozen juvenile black tip reef sharks were hunting in the shallows. The local villages that once fished these waters were now employed at the resort and as rangers. They were partners in the protection of their reefs. Their jobs and the entire marine protected area were funded through dive eco-tourism. A far more sustainable way to profit from the oceans.

The unique combination of marine protection, community involvement and sustainable tourism can turn the tide on a seemingly impossible situation, a beacon of hope for our oceans in peril.

Even in a short period of time, the transformation can be significant. And the more people that consciously choose to become part of the solution, the more global the impact.


Editor’s Note: Shawn is a scuba diver, cinematographer, and marine conservationist, working to protect the environment. As an independent filmmaker and founder of Blue Sphere Media, a production company specializing in underwater and adventure films, he has a unique opportunity to influence our collective mind set and globally fuel the ‘blue movement.’ His award-winning work has been featured in broadcast, promotional and conservation productions around the world. In addition, he is a published conservation photo journalist.

UPDATE FROM SHAWN: A lot of people have been asking me how they can learn more and get involved. Here are some organizations that I am am working with today, each focusing on a unique aspect of the shark finning issue:

Leading the charge:


Join a movement:

Direct action:


Get involved and make a difference!


DiveFilm Podcast – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Both Cocos and Mapelo Islands in the Eastern Pacific Ocean are home to an abundance of marine animals, including numerous species of sharks, rays, dolphins and whales.  Cocos Island is some 300 miles southwest of Costa Rica, and has been designated a Marine Park and World Heritage Site by Costa Rica.  Malpelo Island is a little over 300 miles off the coast of Colombia and is designated as a Colombian Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and marine protected area.  The waters off both islands are considered by divers to be among the most exciting areas in the world for big animal sightings.  The immense schools of Hammerhead Sharks that gather in these waters leave divers awestruck.  The biodiversity is rich and vulnerable.

Join Shawn Heinrichs as he takes us to the islands of Cocos and Malpelo to experience the magnificence of these animals and many other marine animals that abide in these rich waters.

Shawn Heinrichs is a conservation filmmaker based in Longmont, Colorado, USA.  To learn more about Shawn and his work, please visit his website,

DiveFilm Podcast Video is proud to present this film as Episode 3  of DiveFilm’s new High Definition Video Podcasts and Web Videos.  To learn more about it, please visit

-Mary Lynn


Cocos and Malpelo – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2006 by shawnheinrichs

Having made the journey twice to Galapagos, it was time to complete the Golden Triangle of the eastern Pacific. The Golden Triangle is an area of water that extends from the northern most islands of the Galapagos (Wolf and Darwin), northeast to Malpelo Island (off Columbia) and northwest to Cocos Island (off Costa Rica). Within this region, flourishes some of them most abundant and awesome pelagic sea life found anywhere on the planet.

Our Journey began at the Sea Hunter headquarters on the coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacast region. From there we motored a grueling 50 hours out to Malpelo for 4 days of diving. Upon arrival we were greeted by a playful pod of pilot whales accompanied by a school of dolphins. We slowed the boat and the whales approached and circled the boat. What amazing and gentle creatures . But we had diving to do and time was a wasting.

Malpelo is a harsh, barren rock located some 250 miles off the coast of Columbia. To protect it rights, Columbia maintains a small base up on the rocks, complete with armed guards. How they get up there still confounds me! The rock may be barren but the sea life below the water is intense. Unfortunately we were not treated to one of the famous (but rarely experienced) Malpelo baitballs we had all secretly hoped for. To make up for it, however, we were fortunate enough to witness the other main attraction at Malpelo, the mass gathering of Silky sharks. On two dives, we drifted through a school of Silky’s one hundred strong. The were not at all threatening and just a little curious. We also enjoyed the other regulars including schooling hammers in Sahara, many cleaning stations, morays everywhere, huge schools of big eye jacks, grunts, an much more.

After four good days at Malpelo, we were ready to head to Cocos. This time we “enjoyed” a 40 hour crossing in unsettled seas. After starring at a barren rock for four days, the site of Cocos is nothing short of breath-taking. Over 200 waterfalls flow from the heights of this rain forrest island in the rainy season. And rainy it was…. but a few hours of stay, it rained constantly, oscillating between downpours and gentle spattering.

I had journeyed to Cocos Island for one reason only, to experience and capture footage of the mass hammerhead aggregations that have given this island it reputation. The scalloped hammerheads gather by the hundreds to have parasites attached to fresh wounds removed by cleaner fish. These wounds are inflicted by either the males during breading or by other females as they establish the “pecking” order.

I had kept my expectations in check as I have so many times experienced the random nature of the oceans. One day the seas are flourishing and the next, empty. This time we struck gold at a site called Alcyone. An underwater sea mount reaching to within 25 meters of the surface, Alcyone was discovered by Jacques Cousteau and quickly became one of his favorite site. On our first dive we descended into clear waters filled to the brim with hammerheads. We made our way down the line, tucked into the volcanic rock, flipped on our cams, and hung on for 30 minutes to enjoy the show. The sea was alive with sharks, everywhere…from a few feet away to the horizon…. overhead, in front and in back! They circled in all directions. Our dive guide estimated there were as many as 500 sharks in this one location! Eventually our computers were threatening to ground us and we had to ascend back up through the schools of hammers. It was undoubtedly one of best dives of my life and more so, one of the most truly awesome experiences (land or sea) of my life.

The following days we returned to the site. The huge school was there without fail but vis was progressively deteriorating. To compensate for this, the hammers came closer and closer. On the third day, they were within touching distance for the duration of the dives, enough so that my lights could easily light them up…what a treat!

We also enjoyed many great dives at other sites. At these sites we had wonderful encounters with masses of white-tips, the largest school of big eye jacks I have ever seen (maybe 10,000), abundant marble rays, hammerheads everywhere, eagle rays, manta rays, green turtles, the impressive silver tips of Silverado, dolphins and even a near miss with a mother humpback whale and her calf. And one cannot forget the awesome and infamous Manuelita white tip night dive featuring hundreds of white tips hunting in packs creating a moving carpet of sharks a meter below.

After an incredible 5 days of diving, it was time to return home. Shortly after breaking into open water, we heard over the radio that a long-liner had been spotted in park waters. A boat was being dispatched to intercept it, while the long-liner was reeling in its line as fast as possible. Further out, we came across a factory tuna boat drawing in its massive nets.

These two instances served as a somber reminder of how at risk these amazing marine sanctuaries are. Every day, long liners and tuna boats invade these waters and extract everything they can…nothing escapes including countless dolphins and sharks, manta rays and even the majestic whale sharks. As much progress has been made to protect these waters, it is still a losing battle. What is needed is more money and direct support. Groups like Mar Viva, WildAid and Sea Shepherd are among the few groups that actively patrol these waters and manage programs to reduce poaching.

Nevertheless, beauty still abounds below the surface in the waters of Cocos and Malpelo. It is a marvel I look forward to experiencing again with great anticipation.