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Into Jaws, Willingly: Shark Swim Challenge

Forget dolphins, whales, fish and all those other cutesy animals with their pin-up-girl looks – it’s sharks that Cath Leach has a real soft spot for. She may not be giving them a little hug any time soon, but the level of compassion she feels for them is certainly beyond that of a petting zoo. After listening to a speech by ocean researcher Sylvia Earle (who Time magazine has referred to as “Hero for the Planet”) Cath became flabbergasted by the statistics that more than 90 percent of the world’s sharks have already been wiped out and that vast areas of the Pacific Ocean have been completely depleted of oxygen. Rather than learning about the figures and moving on, she became motivated to do something to change them.

A graphic designer by trade, Cath knew she hardly had the scientific knowledge to start an environmental program, so she used the skills she did have to make a difference. She began offering design services to organisations like the Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Sydney Aquarium, and in the process she became aware of everything they were doing to protect the world’s oceans from deteriorating. One thing led to another and she came across the Shark Swim Challenge, which she put her hand up for straight away. Even if it meant she would have to travel to South Africa and cage dive with the great whites. And of course, learn a hell of a lot about the global conservation effort in the process.

Cath says her personal target is $5000, all of which will go directly to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, because, as she points out, their aims are priceless. Some of them include protecting the grey nurse shark, which is expected to be extinct by 2030; campaigning for adequate protection of endangered sharks that are still commercially exploited for their fins; monitoring fisheries for sustainability and raising awareness of sustainable seafood; and protecting marine sanctuaries.

In keeping up with the campaign, Cath is also personally adamant that sustainably be actively sought out. “We screw up the food chain, so farming isn’t the end-all answer that we’d like it to be. Instead of changing the ecology, we should fix the problem,” she explains. This means that everybody should take a responsibility in not only making the effort to ensure their seafood is sustainable, but also teaching the next generation to do the same. With this in mind, Cath has redesigned school education packs along with surfwear brand Sharks Lair, whose aim is marine conservation.

Of course, Cath isn’t just sitting by the wayside and letting the $5000 raise itself in unfun ways. Instead, she has started a marine-themed film festival, which has already sort of begun but is set to continue this Thursday night with Point Break at the Chauvel in Paddington. Up next is documentary The End of the Line, which will be showing in a floor-to-ceiling roof at Sydney Aquarium. Tickets are $35 (including nibblies and wine) pre-paid, or $40 at the door. Get a double pack to see both movies for $55, and be part of the solution in the process. You can contact Cath for tickets.

words: Kristen Hodges


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