By Mera McGrew
In 2004, Debbie Salamone, then a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, was standing in waste-deep water in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla., when she became a member of an exclusive club.
“I saw this big fish jump out of the water next to me and the next thing I knew, the shark was on the back of my foot,” she recalled in an interview with Mission Blue. “I was kicking as hard as I could to get away and it just bit down harder.”
Just as suddenly as the shark clenched its jaws around her foot, it let go. Salamone had to be helped out of the water. “I really only had the courage to look back once because there was blood all over – on the sand and washing out with the waves,” she recalled.
Following the attack, Salamone came to understand that it is the sharks that are threatened by humans and not the other way around. She organized the group Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation to add a unique voice to efforts to protect sharks across the globe.
In the moments immediately after the attack, Salamone didn’t feel quite so magnanimous. Salamone’s Achilles tendon was severed and her foot was mangled and shredded. She was hospitalized, underwent surgery and was unable to walk for months.
“I went through a period of wondering what all this meant,” Slamone said. Over time though, she came to see the encounter as a test of her resolve and also her deep love of nature and the ocean. She recognized the critical role that sharks play in keeping marine food webs in balance and ecosystems healthy.
“That’s when it occurred to me that it would be a fabulous idea to gather a whole bunch of other people like myself [shark attack survivors], because we would be the ultimate spokespeople for sharks,” Salamone said.
In 2009, shortly after joining Pew Environment Group as a spokesperson, she assembled a group of shark attack survivors from around the world to campaign governments to strengthen shark protection and regulations.
Since its launch, the group has worked with Pew to protect this animal, advocating both Congress and the UN to commit to protect sharks, an animal that remains misunderstood by so many – (to learn more about the group Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation, click here).
Today, Salamone remains a leading advocate for the conservation of sharks and vulnerable marine ecosystems. “I think people listen to the shark attack survivors because if we can forgive and speak up for these animals then everyone should be able to understand the urgency of doing so.”
Top Photo: Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation.