Kathy Xu


Banner photo by Kathy Xu

It’s great when doing good and feeling good coincide so nicely. Singapore city girl Kathy Xu dreamt up a paradise trip to save sharks, support fishermen and promote conservation in Lombok. Her boat trip off Tanjung Luar one of Lombok’s best kept secrets is a classic “off the beaten track” travel experience in one the most beautiful and little visited corners of the Indonesian archipelago. Visitors can feel good about themselves simply by taking an unforgettable holiday. Here’s Kathy’s story in her own words.

“Help fishing communities and sharks by exploring secret beaches and enjoying pristine snorkelling sites? 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 wide variety of shark species, many of which one can swim with freely, reveling 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.

I thought it’d be great for people looking for a chance to do good, to receive something they enjoy 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 empty white beaches, far from the usual tourist spots. The fair wages the fishermen receive keep them 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 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 of 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. And there is a whole list of other goals - sustainable fishing, shark tagging and adoption schemes, coral reef protection. I’d like to play a part in using social enteprise to encourage all of these things in shark markets around the world.

However, with each boat trip, I know this dream is taking shape. A guest on one of our 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.

How You Can Help

Take a spectacular vacation or get a great-looking hammerhead T-shirt and do good at the same time.  http://thedorsaleffect.com/

Kathy is the founder of The Dorsal Effect, a winner in the Singapore International Foundation's Young Social Entrepreneurs programme in 2013.

A story by Our Better World – telling stories of good to inspire action.


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