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Making a Difference: How I Took a Stand Against Shark Finning

About The Author

Stacey Segal is the Chairman of The Board of Asia Wild. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, advising international NGOs on technology and fundraising. Stacey spent more than ten years working throughout South East Asia and spends time in Thailand every year.

In 2011, I read the book, "Start Something That Matters," by Blake Mycoskie, Founder of Toms Shoes. Toms recruited bloggers to read the book and then share their own stories. The book inspired me, and I wanted to start something, but what? What could one person do and really make it matter?

Start Something That Matters: The Awakening

"The journey began with one passionate individual determined to make a difference," the article began. After reading the book, I found myself traveling and working throughout Asia. As a blogger, I wrote mainly about my travels, and over the years, I had grown a large following on the blog and social media. I have always been engaged with Wildlife organizations and environmental groups, but at that time, not at the individual level or in my blog.

While working abroad, I stayed in hotel rooms for more than 300 nights a year for over ten years. I had developed a love for Westin Hotels (then a part of Starwood, now Marriott.) When I say love, I bought a Westin bed for my home because I slept so well at the hotel. One of Westin's core commitments included environmental responsibility, including comprehensive initiatives to help preserve the environment, which made staying there even better. Westin Hotels stood for what I stood for, or so I thought.

My Journey Through Asia

An eye-opening and transformative experience left an indelible mark on my consciousness. Walking down the streets in Hong Kong and Macau through markets, I noticed shark fins. Hundreds and hundreds of shark fins. They stood out to me. Curiosity led me to delve deeper into the significance of these shark fins. As I began to learn more about the practice of shark finning, I was confronted with the harsh reality of its impact on the world's oceans and the ecosystems they sustain. Sharks, awe-inspiring creatures that roamed the vast ocean expanses, were now facing an existential threat from this destructive and unsustainable practice.

What is Shark Finning? Shark finning entails cutting off a shark's fin while it is still alive and dumping it back into the ocean; unable to swim, it slowly dies.

During this trip, I was staying at a Westin. A hotel brand that had touted its "greenness." For years they had a "Make the Green Choice Program," every email from hotel employees had a "Please consider the environment before printing this email" tagline, and even went so far as to have created a green brand with Element by Westin. That's why I was so shocked and saddened that a Westin property, the Westin Macau (that hotel is no longer a part of Westin or Marriott brands), had Shark Fin Soup on their menu.

A Catalyst for Positive Change

I decided to take to social media. Twitter, then only five years old, was the place to post. In my tweets and blog post, I emphasized the critical need to address shark finning and its devastating impact on marine ecosystems. I called upon Westin Hotels to take responsibility for their menus and discontinue serving shark fin soup, a dish associated with decimating shark populations.

The Westin Macau Responds to Concerns

The soup had long been considered a symbol of luxury and status in Chinese culture, leading to high demand and consequently driving shark populations to the brink of extinction. At that time, the Chinese Government had already committed to stop serving Shark Fin Soup at official events.

Rather than ignoring the issue or dismissing the concerns, Westin Macau's General Manager took a bold step. Acknowledging the significance of the problem, he engaged in an open dialogue. This began a transformative journey not only for the hotel but for me as well.

Westin’s Commitment to Change

The Westin Macau demonstrated its commitment to sustainability and ocean conservation by pledging to remove shark fin soup from its menu. A decision that was met with enthusiasm from the conservation community.

As promised, Westin Macau followed through on its commitment to remove shark fin soup from the menu. In the GM's email response to me, in addition to copying members of his hotel team, he also copied members of Starwood's corporate Consumer Affairs team, Public Relations team, Social Media Team, the Sr VP of Starwood Global Communications, the Director of Corporate Communication, the Area Director for Hong Kong & Macau, the VP of Asia Pacific Sales, and the VP of Brand Management.

Implementing Change and Raising Awareness

The hotel was committed to raising awareness among its guests and employees about ocean conservation's importance and shark finning's impact. I tracked the hotel menu for years and was always pleased to see it no longer included Shark Fin Soup. Additionally, the corporate team said it would work with other Westin hotels to remove Shark Fin soup. In writing this post, I looked online and found almost all hotels kept it off their menus.

It was amazing that one person's tweets and a blog could get such a response from a major corporation. In a world where environmental issues are becoming increasingly urgent, corporations have the power and responsibility to make a positive impact. This story, my story, serves as an example of how an individual can significantly impact environmental issues.

It demonstrates that each of us, whether an individual or a corporation, has the power to make a positive change in the world.

Making A Difference One by One

Today, I know I can make a difference. As a result of my action and Westin's response, I won an award from Travel & Leisure magazine for best usage of a social media campaign. I was able to Start Something That Matters, and everyone can find something that matters and make an impact (large or small.)

Over the years, I've raised awareness for many causes worldwide through social media and volunteering. I cleaned up after Hurricane Katrina and after the Tsunami that hit Thailand. I've served on the boards of animal welfare organizations and donated to important causes. My passion fuels me, so I sit on Asia Wild's board and actively participate. From one tweet to raising millions of dollars and awareness, I learned that everyone has the power to make a change. At Asia Wild, we firmly believe no organization or idea is too small to make a significant impact. We are passionate about empowering organizations that create positive change in the animal welfare world.

Your support can make a meaningful difference. Join me in taking one small step at a time to help protect and preserve Asian Wildlife and our world.


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