What comes to your mind when you think about sharks? Many would imagine them as terrifying, bloodthirsty marine animals who cannot wait to feast on human flesh. Fortunately for us, that image of sharks is not true (According to the University of Florida, you have a one in 11.5 million chance of getting attacked by sharks).
Humans, however, are the real predators. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year as a result of commercial fishing. This accounts for 6-8% of the world’s shark population. With the shark population declining at such an alarming rate, there is a crucial need to raise awareness and improve the efforts of shark conservation.
Meet Kathy Xu, the founder and CEO of The Dorsal Effect, an ecotourism business focusing on the conservation of sharks. A former school teacher of 7 years, Kathy decided to make the switch after having an intense personal experience with sharks. Realising the need for shark conservation, Kathy embarked on a journey to allow future generations to admire the beauty of these majestic marine animals.
How did the people around you react when they knew about you embarking on a social project?
I had been lucky that the responses were mostly positive and they encouraged me on. While most knew the challenges that would come with this, they didn’t discourage me from going ahead. Instead, they wanted me to be aware of how difficult this could be. I really appreciated the reality check.
What are the challenges that you faced when you first started out? Are you currently still facing any challenges?
Finances was definitely the biggest challenge when I first started. Without a business background, marketing and outreach for the trips was a big problem. Getting buy-in from tourists, schools, and companies for such a niche area was and still is difficult.
How would you measure the success of your project? Is it by counting the number of shark casualties periodically, revenue generated from marine tourism, or a combination of both?
- Revenues generated for the fishermen
- Number of tourists who decided not to consume shark fin soup after the trip
- Number of school students who want to make a positive impact for marine conservation after the trip
- Number of schools that come back for return trips.
These are some indicators of my success.
The project focuses creating an alternative to fishing for sharks. Do you have any plans to conserve the marine habitat to save sharks as well?
I’ve always been thinking about it. However, the current catches of the sharks are from the deep ocean and those areas are hard to conserve. As for the areas just off the fish market where the snorkel sites are, I’ve been thinking about the feasibility of having a shark nursery. I’m trying to do more research with a marine scientist now but will have to be careful of possible negative or positive implications, if any!
Any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Do it only if you really feel strongly enough to want to plough through any possible kind of challenges ahead. And when you feel like giving up, don’t! But do set timelines for yourself to hang on for a little longer than you think you can. At the same time, be prepared to give up when you know you have to. However, you should give up, knowing that you have to kill something so that something else better can come up, that would be more beneficial to your cause.
“Do it only if you really feel strongly enough to want to plough through any possible kind of challenges ahead”.
Giving up her job as a school teacher to embark on a social cause is not an easy task, and it definitely isn’t for everyone. Having passion is key to success, regardless of which area in life. In Kathy’s case, having the passion for shark and marine conservation enabled her to surmount obstacles and bring The Dorsal Effect to where it is today. Kathy and her actions certainly inspires us all to step out of our comfort zones and fight for what we believe in.
Pictures by Caroline Pang