[ASC-media] Media release: Australian whaleshark expert wins world prize

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Wed Oct 25 00:05:28 CEST 2006


Oct 25, 2006

Embargo: 0500 AEST, 26 October 2006


A project to involve thousands of ordinary people in the conservation of the world's largest fish has led to an international award for Australian naturalist Brad Norman, of Perth, WA.

Mr Norman has been chosen as a Laureate in the 2006 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which recognise outstanding contributions to humanity, science and the environment. The Award is being presented at a ceremony in Singapore today (October 26, 2006).

Based on 14 years of study at WA's Ningaloo Reef, Mr Norman - a recognised global authority on whale sharks - has developed a worldwide project for identifying individual whale sharks to monitor their status and abundance.

This will involve thousands of individual divers and tourists, using ordinary underwater cameras to photograph whale sharks and log the images on an international online database set up by Mr Norman and his colleagues. This employs advanced technology used in the Hubble Space Telescope to identify individual fish from the spot markings on their side. (http://www.ecocean.org)

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is the world's largest fish. First recorded in 1828, only 350 whale-shark sightings were recorded in the ensuing 150 years. Recent growth in underwater tourism has brought a surge in sightings. Yet the whale shark remains elusive, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which engaged Norman to assess the species, regards it as "vulnerable" to extinction. It is protected in only a handful of countries. 

The whale shark is one of only three sharks that are filter-feeders, using gill rakers to scoop up krill (shrimp), small fish and other tiny ocean life as its sole source of sustenance. It has never been known to attack humans. Tagged individuals have been tracked for 13,000 kilometres across the Pacific, and 3,000 kilometres in the Indian Ocean. It has an uncanny instinct for locating food concentrations. 

The whale shark is sighted at more than 100 places around the globe - including the Philippines, South China Sea and Indonesia, off India, Australia and Africa, off Mexico, the United States and the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador). Yet it remains so scarce almost nothing is known of its abundance, breeding habits or habitat preferences.

Brad Norman is determined to find out far more about these fish. His visionary plan to involve thousands of ordinary people worldwide in the photo-monitoring and conservation of whale sharks, significantly enhancing knowledge of this elusive species, has earned him a Rolex Award for Enterprise.

With the $US100,000 Award money, Brad Norman is devoting two years full-time to his project, training local authorities, tourism operators and 20 research assistants around the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans to observe, record and protect whale sharks. In this way he will develop whale shark photography as a significant tool for conservation. 

Brad also plans to explain to those who hunt the whale shark that there is more to be gained by leaving it alive. Ningaloo's whale sharks draw more than 5,000 visitors a year, mainly from April to June, generating ecotourism worth an estimated US$10 million, and prove that a live whale shark earns far more than a dead one, he says. 

"The whale shark is worth saving - and we can do something about it," Brad Norman says.  "It is a big, beautiful and charismatic animal, and not dangerous. It is a perfect flagship for the health of the oceans."

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise aim to encourage a spirit of enterprise in visionary individuals around the globe by providing the financial support and recognition they need to implement innovative, working projects that advance human knowledge and well-being. They are awarded in five areas:
o	science & medicine
o	technology & innovation
o	exploration & discovery
o	the environment
o	cultural heritage

Applications for the 2008 awards are now open and Australians are encouraged to apply by completing a form on the website:
Applications close on May 31, 2008. 

For further information, please contact:
Brad Norman: 0414 953 627 
Prof. Julian Cribb FTSE, Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Australia, 0418 639 245
Rolex Australia: 03 9658 0900

A feature article and quality images of Brad Norman's project are available.

Brad Norman's Website: http://www.ecocean.org
Rolex Awards Website: www.rolexawards.com

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