At first glance this image appears to show a gorgeous lemon shark gliding through the sunlight in the warm, clear waters off of Grand Bahama. But look a little more closely, and you’ll notice the fishing line trailing alongside her body originating from a hook imbedded inside her mouth. Unfortunately, sights like this are the rule rather than the exception for those of us fortunate enough to spend time in the underwater world. It is quite rare indeed to go on a dive without seeing some instance of negative impact on marine life caused by humans.
Sharks have suffered especially devastating consequences from human impact. Over 70 million sharks are killed by humans each year; many are targeted for their fins to be used in shark fin soup, and countless others are caught as bycatch in trawl nets or longlines. Several shark species are on the verge of extinction, with their populations being decimated by over 90% in the last few decades. Sharks play a critical role in the health of ocean ecosystems. They are apex predators that keep the populations of other species in balance. You cannot simply remove the top of the food chain without there being dire consequences to the rest of the ecosystem. Far from being the monsters often portrayed in the media, sharks are in fact fragile animals that desperately need our help.
I became a photographer to try to tell the stories of the creatures who live in our oceans. They do not have a voice, but my hope is that they will be able to speak through my images. Most people don’t think about what goes on beneath the surface of the water, but perhaps when they see photographs of these animals, especially the sharks, they will start to care about them. And if people start to care, then maybe they will take measures to save and protect our oceans.
Tanya Houppermans is an internationally-renown, award-winning underwater photographer whose goal is to use her images to promote ocean conservation. In 2015 she left the corporate world behind to concentrate full time on underwater photography, and she now works with ocean conservation organizations worldwide. In addition, she partners with marine scientists who use her images to further their research in studying shark populations. Tanya is also involved in promoting adaptive diving for those with disabilities, as her own son is a certified scuba diver who has autism.