Cost-effective. Low-impact. Replicable.
These are three advantages of surveying sharks using cameras, says Camila Cáceres, a Florida International University PhD candidate and Save Our Seas Foundation project leader. They are also hallmarks of the Global FinPrint Project, the largest global effort to document sharks and rays on coastal reefs using remote underwater cameras. The project was launched in 2015 to deploy baited remote underwater video systems (dubbed BRUVs) to monitor marine animals visiting coral reefs around the world. The first global analysis of the project’s data, published in Nature in 2020, highlights the grave impact of overfishing on shark populations on coral reefs worldwide.
The analysis, ‘Global status and conservation potential of reef sharks’, collated data from more than 15 000 BRUVs’ videos that surveyed 371 coral reefs across 58 countries. On almost 20% of the reefs featured in the study, sharks were ‘functionally extinct’, indicating that their populations are so depleted that they no longer play an important role in that ecosystem. ‘The management of natural resources should be a collaborative and international effort. Many shark species have large habitat ranges and protection will not be effective if we only research and protect sharks in the United States,’ explains Cáceres. FinPrint relies on information from more than 120 researchers who focus on four key coral reef areas: the western Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the western Pacific and the central Pacific.
Despite the study’s bleak results, the project’s researchers still see hope for sharks.
Cáceres cites the results from her home country, Colombia. ‘Rosario and San Bernardo, near the busy city of Cartagena, were ranked among the worst sites globally for the relative abundance of sharks. However, the remote San Andres archipelago ranked second in the Caribbean.’ Her insights speak to some of the study’s broader findings: that despite declines in shark numbers being linked to poor governance, human population density and proximity to the nearest markets, there is potential in many places to rebuild shark populations. ‘As a Colombian, I found it surprising to see how our results differed depending on the site. This highlights the need for more shark research around Colombia and emphasises that complementary methods, like interviews with fishers, should be used so that researchers better understand the local fishing pressures.’