Sophomore Taylor Bratton’s Quest to Save the Sharks

Sophomore Taylor Bratton's Quest to Save the Sharks

By Sam Allen

Ever since she was a little girl, sophomore Taylor Bratton has had a fascination with the ocean and the magical creatures that dwell below its surface, especially sharks. Bratton has been actively trying to spread awareness of the current decline of shark populations due to overfishing. “From age seven, I knew I wanted to save sharks when I heard about the horrible things people were doing and [that it was] going unnoticed,” Bratton said. “One of my best friends growing up is one of the most compassionate people I know, and she loved the ocean as much as I did. When we were seven we had a conjoined shark birthday party to raise consciousness and that got all of our friends interested too!”

Bratton has made many efforts to help the effort to save shark species from extinction. “In the past I’ve made up cycled vintage clothes and had a sale of all of my designs,” she said. “I donated the proceeds to the Sea Stewards, an organization dedicated to protecting sharks and ecosystems. I’ve done a lot of petitions and protests. I’ve also sent countless emails to Chinese restaurants suggesting the removal of shark fin soup from their menus.”

Recently, Bratton has held several events at Tam to spread awareness about shark conservation to her peers. “With the help of science teacher Erin Ashley, I showed a movie concerning shark conservation that was made by a friend of mine named David McGuire, who is the founder of Sea Stewards, and is someone who I really look up to,” Bratton said. McGuire came to Bratton’s event and gave a presentation about why students should be so concerned with shark safety and what they can do to help the sharks. “The ocean influences so many parts of our lives, including climate, most of our oxygen production and fish. You guys are inheriting an ocean that is increasingly becoming sick, and we depend upon the youth to help us leave a better, a healthier legacy,” McGuire said.

Bratton does not only contribute to McGuire’s cause, she’s made a profound impact on McGuire himself. “Taylor loves sharks, has learned about the very serious threats and is taking a leadership role in protecting sharks. As a grassroots non profit effort, we rely on the energy and support of volunteers to make a change. That’s how the Earth movement first started and Sea Stewards is now catalyzing an ocean movement. Taylor’s energy inspires me to keep making the sacrifices in my life to save sharks and the ocean.”

People like McGuire have taught Bratton about the roles of sharks in the ecosystem and why people must do what they can to keep them from going extinct. “People don’t really understand what happens if we overfish this population to extinction. Since they are the apex predators of the food chain and eat the weak fish, when they are fished out of an area the fish population rises. When there are too many fish, fish eat all the algae that protects coral reefs. This causes coral bleaching when reefs have no shield from the sun,” Bratton explained.

However, the real problem stems from the common misconception that sharks are bloodthirsty killers. “In reality, sharks only kill three people a year. Usually these attacks occur on accident when sharks mistake humans as natural prey. Humans respond to these accidents by killing an average of 100 million sharks per year. That’s around 270,000 sharks per day,” Bratton said. “Some shark populations have declined as much as 90 to 99 percent in the last 50 years,” McGuire said. McGuire fears that if we don’t act quickly, there could be serious consequences for the sharks. “At the rate of overfishing, driven largely by the shark fin trade, they do not have another 50 years left.”

Outside of school, Bratton enjoys spending time with her friends, surfing, poi spinning, and horseback riding. “Taylor is just Taylor, there is no way to describe her. She dances to her own tune and that’s what makes her so special. I feel so lucky to have had her impact my life,” said sophomore Alex Gibbons, a close friend of Bratton’s.

Bratton’s efforts to help save sharks have not only given her opportunities to meet and work with many marine biologists, but have also attracted the attention from a celebrity. “I’ve gotten to help out with scientific research on plankton in the Farallon Islands alongside biologists and shark conservationists,” Bratton said. “Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, better known for their show Whale Wars, made me a video commending one of my petitions from when I was 12. All the people I’ve met along the way have helped and inspired me to further my love for the sea.”

Bratton knows of lots of different and simple ways for any person to help the effort to save sharks. “Not eating shark products or products that indirectly harm sharks, such as shark fin soup, shark fillets, or tuna. Tuna is caught with huge floating nets that are carelessly stretched across vast portions of ocean hundreds of miles long and catch everything that swims past. The bycatch includes everything from seabirds to endangered fish, turtles, dolphins and sharks,” Bratton said. “There are plenty of local organizations that need interns and volunteers for events and fundraisers in our area. It’s also really fun to share things you believe in with people in our school. We can all change the future, it just takes a little tenacity and passion.”

Bratton is hoping to keep up her efforts in saving sharks for the rest of her life. “I want to pursue a career in marine biology or conservation. I’d really like to be able to attend Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego and be able to live and go to school from the beach house I grew up in that spurred my innate fascination with sharks,” she said.

Other students find Bratton’s interest in sharks inspiring. “I have no doubt that Taylor will have an extremely positive impact on society,” senior Tony Ulwick said. “Her cause is very noble and I am sure that it will bring her many wonderful opportunities to stand up for what is right and influence people to make a real change.”