For sharks' sake, take a vacation
Help fishermen and sharks just by exploring secret beaches and enjoying pristine snorkelling sites? Yes, please.
People are often quick to associate sharks with just one breed, the Great White, thanks to the movie Jaws.
I wanted more people to appreciate the many other species of less or non-aggressive sharks that one can swim with freely and revel in their magnificence.
So I started The Dorsal Effect to engage shark fishermen in an alternative source of livelihood so that they can stop hunting shark.
How does it work?
I thought it'd be great for people looking for a chance to do good, to receive something they like in return.
It's not charity.
Guests pay for an unforgettable experience in Lombok, Indonesia. The fishermen there take the guests out in their boats to pristine snorkel sites and amazing, secluded beaches, far away from the usual tourist areas.
The fair wages the fishermen receive keep them away from hunting sharks.
I'm not ashamed to say that it was the love for sharks more than wanting to help the fishermen that spurred me to set up the social enterprise.
People like me who love sharks often get enraged when we see pictures of them being killed. But as I got involved in the lives of the fishermen, I came to understand that it is not their fault that sharks are dying.
Since there isn't a viable, alternative source of income for them, hunting sharks is their way of getting by, and it's not without its hardships, including being at sea several weeks at a time because the shark population has been so depleted they keep having to go out farther and farther to hunt.
I started a social enterprise because I wanted to build a sustainable model for self-empowerment and I've been amazed at the small transformations I've seen in the fishermen.
When I see them offering to help guests on their own accord, like putting a life vest under the head of a guest dozing off on the boat, I know they have taken ownership of the project.
So I keep encouraging them — not forcing it down their throats — to make money from ecotourism instead of shark hunting.
I am still far from my dream of seeing many shark fishermen make a full switch to ecotourism, more learn about sustainable fishing, sharks tagged and adopted, and coral reefs protected, first in Lombok and then in other shark markets around the world.
However, with each boat trip that I bring guests on, I know this dream is taking shape.
Someone who came on one of our boat trips recently told me: "We are only as big as the dreams we dare to live."
So I dream big, since dreaming small costs the same as dreaming big after all.
Kathy is the founder of The Dorsal Effect, a winner in the Singapore International Foundation's Young Social Entrepreneurs programme in 2013.
Special thanks to DDB Singapore for producing this story with us.