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Folly Beach shark bite strikes environmental chord

The Great Whites' Hope

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On April 29, a local surfer was bitten by a shark at Folly Beach. It was the first official bite of the season. I was a little surprised to see this news so early. I generally expect to hear of a shark bite at busier times like July 4 weekend when there are large numbers of people in the water and encounters become more likely. Fortunately, the injury was relatively minor and the woman planned to continue surfing once she healed. But as awful as these attacks are, we can't ignore that increased shark populations might be an environmental sign of hope.

In the April issue of SURFER magazine the story "Safety Not Guaranteed" suggests that rising shark attacks are the result of conservation efforts and responsible fishing strategies as well as increasing oceanic water temperatures.

Some might argue that conservation efforts are to blame for increased shark attacks and suggest decimating the ocean's health by hunting the apex predator to extinction just so we can feel a little safer at the beach. But we've been here before. When Americans didn't like how native wolves disrupted their ability to keep livestock and maintain their way of life, they simply killed them all. The wolf was all but extinct and the natural environment changed in ways we still don't comprehend.

However, in 1995, grey wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. The change in that ecosystem as a consequence of the return of the wolf was astounding. It revealed a complexity in the natural world that, despite all our knowledge, is still not fully understood. Yellowstone saw an environmental revival that includes everything from healthier plants to increased populations of many other animals.

The point is that the recent history of humans and nature is not one of which we should be proud. Despite "logic" that has the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement and allowing increased pollution in rivers for the sake of energy conglomerates' bottom line, we need a healthy planet for this little thing called life. We need to humble ourselves and realize that the natural world is not a collection of things for us to whip into submission. It is alive and retains the fingerprint of God. We must appreciate it, not own it.

If shark attacks are on the rise as a result of efforts to maintain healthier oceans and responsible fishing, then that increase is simply a return of what should have always been. We need to stop being so comfortable manipulating the planet for our convenience. The ocean, and all of nature, should be respected. It is wild and amazing. One must proceed with caution and understanding. Nature carries its own risk, but also its own reward and revelation for those willing to meet it on its own terms. As for me, you'll find me at my favorite surf spot between 13th and the Washout during the next swell.

Ali is a first generation American (half Iranian and half Costa Rican). He was born in Greenville, S.C. but grew up in High Point, N.C. where he studied English/Writing at High Point University. He has called Charleston home since 2006 and wants to believe Bigfoot is real.

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