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I had the priviledge of meeting Natalie seven months ago when I became involved in fighting the WA shark cull. We organised the Cottesloe rallys together with help from a squillion fin loving people and have since continued to fight for our precious sharks with an ever growing grass roots community based resistance movement called No WA Shark Cull! Its the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved in.

1621762_10152176293220661_1856729839_nI grew up on a diet of Malcom Douglas and Ben Crop and our own West Aussie..The Crocodile Hunter Safari Man. Both the Croc Hunters have passed now, and so has Malcolm. It breaks my heart to think about that. What our children need more than anything in a world full of Kardashians and botox and air brushing and living on credit is real heroes. True heroes. Achievable heroes…

And that is what Nat is to me. She makes me proud to be a West Aussie. She is quiet and unassuming and humble. The very fact that I said that will be making her blush 🙂 Very much the girl next door. She shys away from media attention and keeps her private life to herself. I am so grateful that today..for the FIRST TIME, for all those supporters out there, we have an interview about who the REAL woman is behind the movement that is shaking a nation! Our Shark Mum…kind of like the Cod Father ;b

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MISS NATALIE ROBYN BANKS

1. How old were you, where were you and who were you with when you saw your first shark? Can you share with us a little bit about that memory?

The first shark I ever saw was at the AQWA Aquarium at Hillary’s Marina (back then it was called Under Water World). I was 12 and with my school mates as part of an excursion. I was in complete awe of the marine life, particularly the two grey nurse sharks that I couldn’t stop watching while I stood in the tunnel looking up at these majestic creatures. I remember thinking how peaceful they looked despite their menacing reputation.

2. Do you have a favourite species of Shark? Can you tell us why?

The whale shark! This gentle giant of the sea has always amazed me – being so large yet being a filter feeder. Their colouring is amazing with individualised light yellow spots and stripes. On my first open water dive, a juvenile whale shark joined the group at Scarborough Beach, which is further south for this species then usual. Seeing a large shadow on my first open dive was a bit scary, but I will never forget seeing all these divers jumping into the ocean from the boat, rather than scrambling out of the water. It was definitely a beautiful and humbling experience. Since then, I have swum with whale sharks a few times… For their size, they are amazingly agile and fast.

3. Do you have a Shark Hero? Someone who inspires you today?

Up until organising the drum line protests, believe it or not, my shark hero was Jessica Alba for acting as a shark trainer in the movie “Into the Blue” in 2005 and then plastering pictures of Great Whites around Oklahoma City in 2009 in an attempt to raise awareness of their plight.

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Since then I have met and liaised with so many shark heroes – but the one person who inspires me constantly is Sharon Burden – the mother of Kyle Burden (a victim of a fatal human-shark interaction with a Great White at the age of 21). The way she honours her son and her love of nature is phenomenal. I feel blessed to have met her and to listen to some of her personal stories. She is also a tower of strength, yet a wonderfully kind woman. Whenever Sharon speaks, I find myself hanging on to every word. She truly is inspirational.

4. What is your favourite shark dive memory? Do you have a dream Shark Dive location? Who gets you there and what does it cost?

My favourite shark memory is definitely swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo. There were three whale sharks together at the time and we were able to exclusively swim with them for about an hour. Needless to say, I was buggered trying to keep up swimming with them, but I got some awesome photographs and memories.
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I definitely want to go to the Bahamas to dive with sharks there. I haven’t looked at the costs and logistics of getting there yet, as I am going to South Australia to see the Great Whites in September this year, then going to the Shark Sanctuary in Palau in May 2015 and then dong the Shark Dive in Fiji in January 2016!

5. Why Sharks? Why not dolphins or fur seals or trees? Can you explain a little bit about what fascinates you about them?

I remember seeing a grey nurse shark in the wild and just being in such amazement, and then realising that I had no idea about how to interact with it to show compassion…. I didn’t even know what it ate! With most animals, they are happy with a pat or a scratch behind the ears… But what do sharks like? Humans still don’t know much about sharks, and I have always been interested by the unknown. It is so sad to see people fear sharks because they do not understand them, instead of embracing them and calling on our governments to increase funding for shark research. We should be finding out more about shark behaviour before we resort to killing them and potentially wiping out a species. The role sharks play in our ecosystem as an apex predator is only partly known…but that part illustrates that healthy oceans need sharks, humans need a healthy ocean and therefore humans need sharks in our oceans. Let’s find out how we can coexist!

 6. Do you have a favourite Shark photo at the moment?

Up until recently, my favourite shark photo was one taken by Paul Spielvogel of Eli Martinez “high fiving” what looks to be a grinning tiger shark called Taxi…. But the photo of Riley Elliot and Ocean Ramsey swimming a Tiger Shark in Perth, to bring it out of its tonic immobility trance after being caught on the drum lines, has a lot more meaning to me.

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This is what the #noWAsharkcull movement is all about: passion, compassion, fighting against all odds and motivating everyday people to assist in helping stop the killing of threatened and vulnerable sharks in WA.

 7. What individual do you think needs to be taken swimming with the sharks and why ?

I think everyday ordinary people should all get a chance to swim with sharks. It is the Mum’s and Dad’s, the school kids, the grandparents and the everyday ordinary citizen who will win this campaign. If enough of them get to understand these majestic creatures more, then they will no longer fear the unknown and may be willing to do that little bit extra to stand up for them, as well as healthy oceans for future generations. The more people speak out on this issue, the more pressure Barnett and the WA Liberal Government will feel.

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We must remember that as a group, people are more powerful than the people in power.

 8. What does your family and friends think of your fascination with sharks?

My mother worries, my father worries, but as a former scuba diver – the worry comes with a glint in his eye, the rest of the family think I’m crazy, but my husband …. well he just knows I’m crazy and goes along with it! He isn’t so passionate about sharks as me, but as my scuba diving buddy he really doesn’t have much of a say (and thankfully he can’t speak under water!)

 9. If you could speak “shark” on your next dive..what would you want them to know ?

I would want to tell them to stay away from the WA coastline whenever drum lines are deployed.

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I would ask them whether there were any specific reasons why in particular a shark-human interaction occurs and what humans could do to help reduce this and I would tell them that never before have so many people fought so hard for their survival.

 10. Where is home for you? What is the biggest threat to Sharks in your region? What can our readers do to help change this?

Perth, Western Australia is home for me. Over-fishing is of a major concern to sharks here, as well as sharks being caught as by-catch by commercial fisherman. There is no denying however that removing 900 tiger sharks from Western Australia’s coast in addition to sharks currently caught by fisherman, that this is going to have an impact on the marine ecosystem throughout Western Australia…. Particularly when the majority of tiger sharks caught in the 2013-14 season were females at a rate of 3:1

I am encouraging everyone who feels that this drum line policy is wrong, to do whatever it is that they feel most comfortable doing in order to try to stop it. Write a letter to their local Liberal MP or Ken Baston. Speak out on talk back radio. Write to their local paper. Raise awareness of this issue with others.

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Hand out information flyers. Attend a protest or pass on the word that one may be coming up. Just do something and don’t ever give up. The people WILL win this battle – it is just a matter of time and pressure! and FIN-NALY

11. You were involved in a protest rally against the Western Australian Governments plan to cull sharks that has now been called the “Largest Protest for a single wild animal species in history”. Can you tell us more about why you think so many average Aussie families supported you and why the shark conservation movement has suddenly picked up this amazing momentum?

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The timing for this rally was planned as such as that it would occur just after the drum lines were deployed, however I didn’t realise how shocking the footage would be of the first magnificent looking female tiger shark being dragged and then shot in the head four times by a .22 calibre rifle. It upset many Western Australians, who took to social media to express their outrage.

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The protest, which happened six days later, enabled ordinary citizens to express this frustration with like-minded people and was as much about protecting our marine life as it was about a failure in our democratic system. I believe the planning for the protest also played a key role – those people who said that they were going to attend, were encouraged on social media to provide their input on what they wanted the protest to consist of, and where there was a division, it would go to a vote. It was never my protest, but a protest organised around what the majority of attendees wanted.

As an organiser, I also ensured that people felt safe bringing their children and raising their voices by hiring security personnel – that was never a topic up for debate – I felt complete responsibility for everyone’s safety on the day – so no matter what, security personnel would be there!

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The whole look and feel of the protest was professionally done with brilliant artwork and designs, fantastic banners and signs, great speakers and also wonderful entertainment including activities to keep children occupied. And, what a perfect setting; the most popular beach in Colin Barnett’s electorate!

Sharks are in need of help. The laws are protecting them, because they need protection. Human-shark interactions are rare and to go to the extreme of killing sharks is wrong – but doing it through a flawed policy and way that is has proven not to work is just criminal to the people. Unfortunately some people are being lured in to a false sense of security.

I believe there is a much stronger conservation movement in Australia then there has been in previous decades and people have had enough of leaders who are not truly representing the people and future generations.

To learn more about how you can help support sharks join the #NoWAsharkcull Facebook page today!

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