KOTA KINABALU, SABAH – Sharing his love for sharks and conservation of their habitat with the public, aquaculture entrepreneur Eric Yu has in the past one year visited 74 schools and kindergartens in Kota Kinabalu and nearby districts.
His “No Shark Fin” outreach programme through the Sabah Sharks Protection Association (SSPA) has to date seen Yu interacting with over 15,000 students and almost 900 teachers, in addition to students’ parents who were present at some of the sessions.
In each session that lasts between 30 to 40 minutes, Yu shares the reasons sharks are important to the ecosystem and the types of sharks that can be found in Sabah and elsewhere, and is always mindful of tailoring his message to suit the age group he is targeting.
“I explain why we should be proud of sharks that are found in Sabah. Borneo is one of the very few places in the world where you can find the very rare true freshwater shark, Glyphis species and the Kinabatangan river is one of the rivers where such unique shark species occur. I also tell them about the Borneo shark and Borneo catshark.
“I find myself often having to dispel the unnecessary fear of sharks created by Hollywood and I compare deaths caused by road accidents and that by sharks in Malaysia. In the last half a century, there have been no deaths caused by shark attacks in Sabah,” he said.
The 45 year old who is also a mangrove and coral reef tour guide, said he enjoys sharing his love and fascination for sharks with children and other target groups.
“The feedback I have received is very positive. I have teachers thanking me for sharing facts that they were unaware of, and students regardless of age group always express sadness when I show them photographs of sharks being finned.
“They are always very enthusiastic and shout at the top of their voices whenever I encourage them to state out loud anti-shark finning slogans,” he said in a Press release issued in the run up to the Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum this month.
In terms of effectiveness, Yu said apart from measuring numbers, he uses his best judgement to evaluate the reaction of students and teachers to his presentation, and their interaction with him after that.
“Secondary school children often want to shake my hand or give me high-fives and ask lots of questions. Younger children hug me or pat me on the back,” he said.
Yu said he strives his best to drive home the message that shark finning and consumption of shark fins are reasons for the declining number of these apex predators worldwide, and he often practices his message on his six-year-old son in the run up to presentations especially those involving younger children.
“I must capture the attention of those I reach out to and I am always mindful that I am representing marine biologists and conservationists who want to make a positive impact on the marine environment.
“I am happy to be able to do my part in sharing the love for important sea creatures like sharks. I am also happy that this will inspire the younger generation to view this fantastic animal as something to behold rather than consume.
“I am encouraged to do more and if possible, I would like to go to China and talk at schools there,” he said.
Yu whose background is in Biology with a major in Zoology has been able to carry out his outreach work via support from the Global Green Fund and the United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
He will be speaking at the Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum in Kota Kinabalu on June 21 and 22. The forum with the theme “Exploring Synergies between Fisheries, Conservation and Tourism” is jointly organised by Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), WWF-Malaysia and SSPA.