Recognising Australia's Future Environmental Leaders
This year's winner of the Future Leaders Environment Awards, Frederick Michna, joins Earthwatch's Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Reef expedition.
The smell of diesel fumes, of sweat and adrenalin, were thick on the marlin board. The mood was tense, as we waited for a signal from the water. The dive master’s fist went up. She’d spotted the shark! "Go, go, go!" We jumped into the water grasping our cameras, and were greeted by the pleasant shock of mildly, cool water seeping through our wet suits.
The swell was crashing on the reef behind us and a massive shark was looming towards us. We faced it head on. At any other time in history onlookers would have put us in an asylum.
He had suddenly appeared out of the murky gloom, mouth open, gulping in the seawater and plankton and accompanied by his royal entourage of smaller fish. He was massive, and majestic. His fin gracefully propelled him as we hurried, awkwardly, to get out of his way. Only a few of us remembered our primary objective. We were to take a picture of him so that he could be identified. Our mission was to learn all we could about this elusive species.
Very little is known about the Whale Shark; and being a part of Brad Norman’s research team led me to conclude that we don’t really know much about any marine ecosystem.
Whale Sharks might live as long as we do, but not much is known about what they do over that lifetime. A significant population goes through Ningaloo Marine Park every year but we don’t really know why. Only one shark has ever been found pregnant. It had hundreds of embryos inside it, but unfortunately it was dead.
Brad Norman, EcOcean and Earthwatch are working to provide baseline data on this majestic species. They are using an adaptation of NASA’s algorithm to map the spots on their pectoral fins and compare each sighting. People can upload any pictures they have to increase the mass of information. Using this method, the movements of Whale Sharks all over the world can be tracked and an understanding of their habits gained.
Hopefully the Whale Shark can be saved by the collaborative effort of the entire international community whilst they migrate through the different territorial waters. The finning of these long-lived animals makes action urgently necessary. In some countries, the animals are killed simply to signpost the doors of restaurants. Their magnificent fins are mounted as trophies.
I am very glad to have been given the opportunity, to be a part of real, groundbreaking scientific research. There was leadership in action, and individuals who were changing the world with their commitment and dedication.
Get inspired, and apply to get involved in the Future Leaders Program. There are so many areas that need action and preserving our biodiversity on land and sea is an area of great need and concern.
I know I will carry the experience that I’ve had on Ningaloo Reef as I complete my Science/Law degree at the Australian National University, and continue to strive to find ways for me to understand and defend my home, the rainforest of Far North Queensland.
- Frederick Michna