ORLANDO, Fla. - When Debbie Salamone nearly lost the use of her foot in an unprovoked shark attack 11 years ago she never imagined she would be leading a world wide effort to save sharks.
Salamone, a former journalist with the Orlando Sentinel and a spokesperson for Pew Charitable Trusts, admits she "hated sharks" and to this day swims in Weikiva Springs rather than Florida's ocean water.
In August, 2004 Salamone became one of the 61 victims of unprovoked shark attacks around the world that year.
She tells Local 6 she remembers being in waist deep water about 50 feet from the shore off of Canaveral National Sea Shore.
A thunder storm was starting to roll in and she says she knew it was time to get out. Suddenly a fish jumped out of the water and in an instant she felt something "clamping down." It was a shark.
She tried to shake it loose but at that point she says it just "bit down harder."
As she reflects on those frightening moments Salamone concludes it must have been "a case of mistaken identity. "
Despite the need for physical therapy and a mangled foot she continues to recruit victims who will defend sharks.
"The question is do you love something enough to defend it and the answer is yes, if you can overcome the worst that it has to give," she says.
What Salamone loves is the environment and she will never stop reminding you that 100 million sharks are killed every year in part for an odd delicacy called shark fin soup.
She has gathered some of the worst of the worst shark attack survivors from around the world to take up the cause to stop the overfishing of the ocean predator.
"These are people that suffered enormously, she says, and if they can say that sharks are worth saving then that should be a message that everyone hears."
The group is backed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and has taken the message to Capitol Hill and the United Nations.
Most recently the survivors have started recruiting other shark attack victims on a Facebook page that has already attracted nearly 8,500 likes.
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