Jonn Lu walks into our office looking like he’s ready to scale the walls. Dressed in a blue and black athletic tee, shorts and a rugged backpack, the organiser of Hong Kong‘s latest anti-shark finning campaign — cleverly titled “I’m FINished with Fins” — is also an extreme sports fanatic who runs adventure meet-ups in his spare time (read: diving, zip lining, trail running, etc).
Unpacking his ocean-blue cased laptop in our meeting room, he gets right down to business with his PowerPoint presentation (one that he’s no doubt presented countless times before) — a gleaming showcase of what he and his team of impassioned volunteers have already managed to accomplish in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
And is it ever impressive. From piquing the interest of conservation powerhouses WWF and WildAid to getting airtime on National Geographic and high-profile celebrity endorsements — the campaign has grown to the point where “no one would refuse us,” says Lu. The best part is, everything about this grassroots movement is done on a pro bono basis.
While he definitely looks the part, Lu wasn’t always a shark conservationist. Born and raised in Singapore to a “very Chinese family”, he studied economics at Columbia University in New York with the intention of becoming a diplomat. However, an internship at the United Nations left him disillusioned and off he went on a journey to find something more meaningful in life.
In 2010, Lu joined Shark Savers Hong Kong as their very first volunteer (he reminisces of manning booths at dive expositions back in the day) and has since become director of Shark Savers Asia Pacific — something he calls “a very poetic and beautiful accident.”
“Shark conservation was just one of those things I fell into, and a role was created for me that grew holistically and organically. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined doing this, and that we’d be doing something so big today.” The campaign continues to grow in popularity in Hong Kong, with a push in China to come this fall.
Get to know more about the shark finning issue in our in-depth interview with Lu below:
LifestyleAsia (LSA): The shark fin issue isn’t new — what are you doing now that’s different?
Jonn Lu (JL): Over the last 10 years or so, a lot of NGOs have worked on getting people to understand the issues of the oceans and the importance of sharks, but everyone still encounters the same obstacle.
People would tell me, “I can promise not to order shark fin soup but if I’m at a corporate banquet or at a friend’s wedding and the soup is there, I have to eat it.” There are a lot of people who don’t want to eat the soup but they just can’t say no. So what do you do? We make it socially acceptable to say no and we use famous people to do so.
JL: Every time we get someone to come in, we take them through what we call ‘Shark 101’. We tell them that once they get on this campaign, it’s not just for three months, six months or a year — this is a lifelong commitment. We’ve had to turn people away who weren’t ready, because we can’t have anyone getting caught eating shark fin soup.
LSA: What is the single most important reason not to eat shark fin?
JL: Think of sharks as the lions of the ocean. Their role as top predators in the food pyramid is to regulate and control everything underneath them. When the top predators are gone, the middle tier overpopulates and eats everything at the bottom, which then causes everything to collapse.
On land, if birds started to fall from the sky and the streets were filled with dead birds, we’d know something was wrong. But no one cares about the ocean because they can’t see what’s happening.
LSA: How many sharks are being killed per year?
JL: Anywhere from 73 to 100 million sharks are taken out of the ocean each year, which means we’re coming to the bottom of the barrel very soon.
Sharks aren’t like tuna, salmon and anchovies that take a year or two to mature and then spawn into millions. They take a very long time to mature — some species 10 to 15 years, and when they’re ready to have babies, it can take up to 22 months! Can you imagine being pregnant for two years? That’s a pretty scary thought.
LSA: How will you deal with the huge demand for shark fin in China?
JL: China is the world’s biggest market [for shark fin] with 95 percent of all fins heading there. What we want to do is change what is cool and uncool, by using well-known personalities that they’d want to emulate (for example, Li Ka Shing or Markus Shaw).
If the big business men who can have anything they want in the world are choosing not to eat shark fin soup, then maybe they’ll think twice.
LSA: What is your ultimate goal with this campaign?
JL: On June 8, 2013, Brunei became the first country to ban shark fin, where you cannot consume or even possess shark fin. This is very significant because there are a lot of countries, like Malaysia, who could do something similar.
What we’re doing now is changing the social landscape and getting people on the streets to turn down shark fin. The end game is still to legislate or regulate the trade, which is why we focus on Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan [who are responsible for trade]. If we can cut off all these links to China, then we can stop the consumption.
LSA: Lastly, if you were a shark, what shark would you be?
JL: I love hammerheads. I’ll never forget this blue water dive I did in Malaysia — where everything is baby blue and you’re deep enough to not know which way is up or down, which makes it quite dangerous.
At about 30 meters, we saw this giant black mass in baby blue and started chasing after it. It turned out to be a towering mass of about 10 to 20 stories of hammerheads swimming. One of them — the size of a minibus — came right towards me and just swam past. That moment changed my life.
For more information on the “I’m Finished With Fins” campaign, visit www.finishedwithfins.org.
(Originally published on LifestyleAsia.com)
Editor’s note: Finally, I got to write about something I’m truly passionate about: saving the sharks (and the ocean, too)! I don’t know how long I’ve been turning down shark fin, and now it’s finally becoming cool to do so thanks to people like Jonn Lu.
Please help spread the word! I’m FINished with Fins!! (and meat)!! 😉