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Ground-breaking Shark Research conducted in St. Maarten waters

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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In April 2021 members from the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), and Beneath the Waves conducted multiple ‘scientific firsts’ as part of the “Shark Shakedown” project. The research expedition was a part of a wider research project into tiger sharks in the region funded by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NL) through the Biodiversity Funds and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. The researchers tagged eleven sharks, including for the first time a female pregnant tiger and endangered Caribbean reef shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The data will provide vital information for conservation strategies not only in St. Maarten, but for the wider Caribbean.

The expedition lasted five days in which three species of sharks were tagged, including tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi), and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) all ranging from sub-adults to adults.

Participants received hands-on training with experts from Beneath the Waves in preparation for the upcoming expedition to the Saba Bank in August 2021. The goal of this upcoming expedition is to determine whether the Saba Bank is a breeding area for tiger sharks in the Eastern Caribbean. The high-definition ultrasound technology the team used was created by E. I. Medical Imaging and pioneered by collaborator Dr. James Sulikowski, of Arizona State University. This technology has successfully been used to identify maturity state and the stage of pregnancy in various shark species, a first for shark science in the region.

The scientists successfully confirmed early pregnancy stage in a large female tiger shark, as well as placed a satellite tag on the shark during the workup process. Using satellite tracking over the next few months, the scientists hope to confirm evidence of Sint Maarten being a breeding location for these globally threatened animals. In another shark tagging ‘first’, Beneath the Waves’ Chief Scientist, Dr. Austin Gallagher, placed the first camera tag on a tiger shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The team successfully recovered the camera package during the expedition, and the animal has already shown promising results regarding shark behavior in the region.

Both the satellite tag and camera tag have shown that these tiger sharks prefer to travel in the area between St. Maarten and St. Barths; however, these are only the first detections. No assumptions can be made yet regarding the movement of these animals.

The information gained from this research will provide a better understanding of the importance of both the status of sharks in Sint Maarten’s territorial waters and in the Yarari Sanctuary and the role these ecosystems play in the life-cycle of tiger sharks in the wider Caribbean region. Tiger sharks are currently categorized as Near-Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature while Caribbean reef sharks have very recently been upgraded to Endangered. Sharks play key roles in maintaining the balance within local and regional marine ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity and therefore their protection is crucial.

Follow the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance’s Facebook, Instagram (dcnanature) or DCNA’s website (https://dcnanature.org/news/) to learn more about the shark expedition and other nature news from the Dutch Caribbean.

Photo credit:  ©  Sami Kattan/Beneath the Waves (all rights reserved)

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and they are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Caribbean Shark Coalition launched

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Caribbean Shark Coalition launched to promote training, impact, and collaboration around shark protections in the Greater Caribbean Region

The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and  Beneath the Waves (BTW) have launched the Caribbean Shark Coalition (CSC), an innovative, new platform to bring key stakeholders, researchers, governments and funders together to better collaborate and scale the impacts of science and policy within the entire Greater Caribbean region.

Represented are over 45 new members from NGOs, governments, and local businesses from 24 countries, which have formally joined the CSC to build capacity around research, policy, and education efforts for these threatened species in the region.

The Caribbean plays a key role in advancing the global target of protecting 30% of the worlds’ ocean by 2030. Under this vision, the CSC has three primary goals, which will be carried out through collaborative work and CSC-member projects. Firstly, the CSC will foster collaboration in shark and ray research, policy, and capacity building for conservation among stakeholders, and provide opportunities for knowledge transfer and data synthesis. The CSC will also seek to explore ways in which transboundary protections can be made to better safeguard the long-term health of shark and ray populations. Finally, the CSC aims to promote a sustainable future for these species as well as the human livelihoods who depend on them, by engaging local businesses, stakeholders, and private sector corporations.

This is a historic moment for marine conservation efforts in the Caribbean,” says Tadzio Bervoets, Director of DNCA and a founding team member at the CSC. “We have been calling for transboundary marine protections in these waters, as we know that these apex predators are connecting ecosystems, reefs, fisheries, and nutrients across Exclusive Economic Zones. The CSC will help us to find and address critical knowledge gaps around sharks and rays in the region, and support collaborative research projects.”

Dr. Austin Gallagher, Chief Scientist of Beneath the Waves, shares, “Over the years we’ve had so many stakeholders from throughout the region express their interest in getting engaged in basic research or education around sharks, but a lack of resources or technical or operational expertise limited them from taking action.

He adds, “We hope The Coalition can play a role in creating that friendly, open, and supportive community those voices have been looking for.

CSC members represent a collection of experts from NGOs, local communities, intergovernmental organizations and governments, academia, and policy institutes, and local businesses, working together to advance the study and conservation of sharks and rays found in the waters of the Greater Caribbean. The CSC will provide cross-disciplinary training, region-wide assessments, and will issue grants to CSC-member projects. The CSC will represent the interests and goals of members and, more broadly, sharks and ray species of the Caribbean at the UN (UNEP-CEP and the Regional Activity Center for the SPAW Protocols of the Cartagena Convention), IUCN-Caribbean, CITES, CMS, CBD, and other international gatherings.

For information visit www.caribbeansharks.co

Photo credit: Sami Kattan (all rights reserved)

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Book your Autumn 2021 Bonaire getaway with Ultimate Diving

Caribbean DTA Team

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Ultimate Diving has been busy working on some fantastic itineraries to the beautiful Bonaire so you can start planning for a fantastic diving adventure. Bonaire is one of the few Caribbean destinations where you can dive 365 days of the year! Therefore, it is no surprise that it is a popular destination for divers. Experience its pristine underwater environment thriving with vibrant tones and encrusting corals on every rock and wreck and you will not be disappointed!

Ultimate Diving have a fantastic early booking offer for Captain Don’s Habitat. The resort was founded in 1976 by the renowned underwater legend Captain Don Stewart who was at the forefront of environmentally sound developments on the island of Bonaire for many years. The pristine house reef accessible from the beach is awash with colourful parrotfish, angel fish, feisty sergeant majors, butterfly fish, scrawled file fish, grunt, gobies and groupers.

Special Offer: Book 7 nights from £1885 – Price includes flights from London, transfers, 7 nights accommodation and 10 dives per person. Single supplements apply and regional departures available on request.

To enquire or book, just give the Ultimate Diving team a call on 0208 655 6458 and they can answer any questions you may have and give you the lowdown on the destination and diving.

For more, visit www.ultimatediving.co.uk.

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