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Vital Caribbean shark population to be better protected

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Marine Conservation Society are delighted to announce that they will be part of a new project funded by the UK Government which will be protecting shark populations in the Caribbean.

They will be working directly with organisations in both the Caribbean and the UK to ensure that local shark populations are protected in the waters around Anguilla, one of the UK’s overseas territories. Thanks to a grant awarded by the UK Government’s Darwin Plus initiative, which provides vital funding in overseas territories, work will be carried out to better understand shark populations around these East Caribbean islands. As apex predators, the sharks sit at the top of the food chain, and play a critical role in marine ecosystem recovery and resilience.

Amdeep Sanghera, UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have received vital Darwin Plus funding for this exciting project. By undertaking the first ever assessments of sharks in Anguilla, we’ll better understand the status of these keystone predators.”

Amdeep goes on to explain why the work is so critical: “Atlantic shark populations have declined by as much as 90% in recent decades, including in the Caribbean region which is home to at least 40 shark species. By undertaking the first ever assessments of sharks in Anguilla, we’ll better understand the status of these keystone predators.”

This project will develop priority conservation actions to support conservation of Anguilla’s shark populations, with local communities fully engaged in creating these solutions.”

Working alongside the Anguilla National Trust and the Government of Anguilla’s Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit, scientific aspects of the project will be guided by University of Exeter’s Dr Matt Witt who is an Associate Professor in Natural Environment.

The programme will include deploying baited remote underwater cameras (BRUVs) in shallow and deep-water habitats to support the first ever ecological shark assessment in Anguilla.

We will offer our expertise in underwater camera systems to improve knowledge for these incredibly important, but often much maligned, species,” Dr Matt Witt, University of Exeter explained.

Fishing boats in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of the Anguillan islands
Credit: Steve Adams via Unsplash

An international collaboration

The Marine Conservation Society will use their successful Community Voice Method of engagement and, working in partnership with the Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit in Anguilla will work directly with the local community to understand how they live alongside the sharks, and to ensure that those who live and work around the islands have their opinions included in the project.

The collaboration between local residents and government departments, and UK scientists and the Marine Conservation Society will be central to the drafting of a national shark Species Action Plan to safeguard these invaluable creatures for generations to come.

This is the first time that we’ll be partnering with MCS and the University of Exeter,” said Farah Mukhida, Executive Director, Anguilla National Trust .

With their extensive experience, expertise, and commitment to evidence-based marine conservation, we’re looking forward to developing local capacity as we work together with the Government of Anguilla to conserve some of the world’s most misunderstood and feared species. An assessment of Anguilla’s shark species populations, and Anguillians’ attitudes towards sharks has been missing and it’s a much needed area of research.”

With fear of sharks still widespread today, a need exists to sensitise the Anguillan public on this matter. Fisheries Unit is happy to be a part of this project, and looks forward to engaging all stakeholders to assist with changing people’s attitudes towards shark conservation” Kafi Gumbs, Director, Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit, said.

To find out more about the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Caribbean Reef Shark by Frogfish Photography

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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Missing Shark Week?

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Get your fix in The Out Islands of The Bahamas!

A designated shark sanctuary since 2011, The Bahamas boasts some 40 species of sharks, and dozens of dive operators ready to help you live your own Shark Week adventure. Best of all, for US and Canadian citizens, when you book one of 35 participating Out Islands hotels, they’ll treat you to free round-trip flights or ferry tickets from Nassau! For European residents, there is a similar offer up for grabs – click here to find out more!

Shark highlights include:

Andros

On just about every dive in Andros, you will see a shark. The puppy dog-like Caribbean Reef Shark is the most prominent.

Bimini

Just a half-mile off Bimini, you’ll find endangered great Hammerhead Sharks and the occasional Bull Shark and Lemon Shark on shallow dives in Bimini’s warm waters.

Cat Island

Discover the world’s largest concentration of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the deep, protected waters around Cat Island.

The Exumas

Meet abundant (and mostly friendly) Nurse Sharks around the Exumas’ colorful reefs or resting under a dock.

Long Island

Visit the world’s first developed and still naturally unchanged Stella Maris Shark Reef. Dive and see the Bahama Grey Tip Reef Sharks (usually a dozen or more), an occasional Bull Shark, Nurse Shark, or Hammerheads.

For more information visit The Out Islands website by clicking here.

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Sharks move to deeper water as they mature

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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A new study from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) showed that reef sharks utilize different areas of the reef throughout their lifetime.  Using baited video cameras, six different species of reef sharks were recorded around the northern Dutch Caribbean islands. These results will impact the design and implementation of shark conservation strategies for years to come.

Reef Sharks

Reef sharks play a critical role within the ocean. As a top predator, reef sharks help maintain the delicate balance within (coral) reef environments. In fact, research has found that reefs with healthy shark populations are more resilient and capable of withstanding the pressures of climate change, pollution, overfishing and diseases.

Juvenile Sharks

Understanding the dynamics of habitat use of local shark populations is critical when designing effective marine conservation strategies. This is exactly what the latest reef shark study from WUR hoped to achieve. Using baited remote underwater video cameras at 376 locations around the reefs of Saba, Saba Bank and St. Eustatius, fish ecologist Twan Stoffers and his colleagues recorded 126 different shark sightings.

Of the six different species recorded in this study, juvenile Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) were most commonly recorded.  Overall, they observed young sharks in shallow, more complex areas of the reef, whereas the larger, more mature, sharks were observed further away from the reef in deeper habitats up to 65 meter depth. Larger nurse sharks were frequently recorded in seagrass beds. The researchers were surprised that hardly any adults were observed over the course of the entire study.

Implications

This knowledge could have an important impact on conservation strategies for reef sharks and other endangered shark species. Since reef sharks use a variety of different habitats (both shallow and deeper water areas), creating an interconnected conservation network is vital for ensuring full protection throughout their life cycle.  Sanctuaries such as the Yarari Sanctuary (which includes the marine area around the Caribbean Netherlands) are an important step in creating a network of protected areas.  In addition, efforts such as the Caribbean Shark Coalition are important as well, because they work to build capacity for shark and ray research, policy and conservation within the Wider Caribbean Region.

Report your sightings

You can help contribute to the overall understanding of sharks and other species by reporting your nature sightings on sightings and photos on DutchCaribbean.Observation.org or download the free apps (iPhone (iObs) & Android (ObsMapp)).

Species reports by local communities and tourists are invaluable for nature conservation efforts to help increase public awareness and overall species protection.

DCNA, Observation International and Naturalis Biodiversity Center are working together to develop on automated species identification app for your phone for all species on land and in sea. Your uploaded photos are of great value to make this possible. For questions, please contact research@DCNAnature.org

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