World-renowned ocean environmentalist and brand ambassador for Luminox watches, Scott Cassell, is keen to expand his underwater research on Asia's marine eco-system to Brunei Darussalam.
If given the opportunity to do so, Cassell, in an interview with the Weekend Bulletin, said that he would make the trip to the Sultanate on any given day.
The California-based ocean activist, who recently surveyed the overall health of sea life and coral reefs of Sipadan and Mabul Island, said that it would be an honour to continue his research in the region's underwater haven as he strongly believes that Brunei has the potential to "lead the world by example" due to the Sultanate's "robust initiatives" to protect marine life.
Lauding Brunei's contribution from its stakeholders - government, NGOs and youth - in ensuring the continuity of protecting the biodiversity of marine life, Cassell said: "Information is power.
"It would be a good idea to look into successful researches that have been conducted (in the same eco-system) in the past.
"And then by comparing this to what we already know we will be able to get the baseline and look at the future to see if there are any changes base on their conservation efforts."
According to him, such studies would only take months to complete, not years.
Speaking on Brunei's efforts in boosting dive tourism, he advised the local dive operators to abide by both local and international laws when it comes to organising dives, especially at unexplored waters, to avoid any harm to the eco-system.
"There must be a limit for dive operators," he said. "They need to establish underwater pathways for divers and use these pathways to enjoy the beauty of the underwater marvels so that people can still land on the sea bed (not destroy) and still be next to the reefs or corals."
Cassell has been diving for the past 35 years and has 13,000 hours of underwater diving experience under his belt.
During his underwater expeditions, he has swum alongside whales, seen man-sized Humboldt Squids, and been in the water with Great White Sharks and Tiger Sharks from different parts of the world.
Cassell, who is very fond of the ocean at Sipadan, said: "The ocean is my home. It is beautiful and full of life."
However, he warned that something must be done to protect the ocean which, according to him, is now "sick and dying". Rampant poaching of sharks, turtles and other endangered sea life poses a serious threat to the ocean's eco-system, he added.
On his mission to 'Luminox Save the Seas' initiated by Luminox Malaysia and Brunei, Cassell said: "I call myself a conservationist who made a commitment to save the ocean. Anybody can do what I do ... I just made a choice to help as much as I can."
According to him, there are less than 100 people on the planet that are doing what he does.
On September 17, 2011, Cassell attempted a record-breaking 30-mile dive from Catalina Island to San Pedro, to study the shark population off the California coast.
"I swam underwater for 33 miles and I was underwater for over 10 hours but I didn't see one single shark. The time selected was the high point of shark season, at the best location historically in all of California, to see sharks; so I did everything I could to encounter sharks, but I still did not see a single one," he said, adding that so many sharks in US and other countries are all gone due to the shark fin trade.
Now Cassell uses his skills to protect sharks and put poachers behind bars by setting up Sea Wolves Unlimited LLC, which carries out evidence-gathering operations, aimed at bringing poachers and polluters to justice.
Combining military tactics with environmental motivation, these operations have resulted in 11 criminal convictions and many more arrests and pending investigations.
Asked why we need to save sharks, Cassell said it is for ecological reasons, as the Humboldt Squid (also known as Jumbo Squid) reproduces extremely rapidly.
"Each female produces millions of eggs, whereas the Hammerhead shark, one of the squid's primary predators, only gives live births to just 20 pups on average in a litter," he added.
Additionally, these "voracious eaters" consume the fish that humans love to eat - commercially valuable fish such as salmon, hake and anchovy. The Humboldt Squids also vacuum up everything that lies on their path, including corals and shrimps, or anything that can't swim faster than them. The Humboldt Squids will leave behind a desert.
So how do we save the sharks?
"We need to stop eating sharks ... more specifically, shark-fin soup, which I understand has an established place in traditional Chinese cuisine. However, consumption levels have become unsustainable. I'm sure you don't want to see a world where the sharks are extinct and Humboldt Squids taking over," said Cassell.
Experts estimated that sharks are slaughtered at a rate of 100 million a year. Ecologically, these animals play a very important role in the oceans in a way that an average fish does not. Sharks are apex predators that eat very efficiently, going after old, sick or slower fish, thereby keeping the fish population healthier.
"Economically, they draw tourist dollars to the region and regulate many populations of marine life to the 'right size' so that prey species like the Humboldt Squid don't cause harm to our commercial fisheries," he explained.
Cassell also shared a moving story about his 20-year friendship with a Great White Shark named 'Spots', who was found rotting on the beach after poachers killed her for her fins.
"For 20 years I looked forward to seeing her swim by in majestic beauty. My heart was broken when I saw the picture of 'Spots' rotting on the beach with people rejoicing at her death," he said.
Holding back his tears, Cassell went on to describe that 'Spots' never once made an aggressive move towards him or anyone else. He had swum alongside her many times, pet her five-foot-high back and even rode on her. Millions of people have seen her on TV without knowing it was 'Spots'.
"Not only was she my friend, she was a magnificent ambassador for the sea showing that Great Whites have a gentle side, individual personalities and intelligence," he added.
Cassell's main message is that sharks are a lot more valuable alive than dead.
He said: "You have a beautiful eco-system (in Asia). Why not build the eco-tourism industry? Draw tourist dollars by protecting your sharks! They are needed to ensure your ocean's eco-system stays healthy and beautiful and to keep away the Humboldt Squid from the types of fish you love to eat."
Cassell is a Counterterrorism Combat Dive Instructor to the Special Ops community, an anti-piracy consultant and sniper and a former special Ops combat medic and MedEvac Flight Instructor in the US Army National Guard. He is also a Special Ops expert military operative.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin