Who I am
When I was a little girl I was always either in a swimming pool or in a lake during our family vacations. I have always loved being in the water and by the time I was 13 years old I already knew I wanted to study something related to the ocean. So at the age of 17 I left my home country of Guatemala and moved to Baja California Sur in Mexico to study marine biology. While studying for my Bachelor’s degree, I was introduced to sharks and rays on a fateful field trip. Seeing so many sharks on the beach left an impression on me and prompted a decision to dedicate my professional life to studying sharks. For the next 12 years I lived in Baja California Sur. After completing my PhD I returned to Guatemala, where studies relating to marine biology – and especially elasmobranchs – are few and far between. Now, after several years of scientific training in Mexico, I am excited to be working in Guatemala and contributing to scientific efforts relating to conservation and management, principally of sharks and rays.
Where I work
For the past year and a half, at Fundacion Mundo Azul, we have been conducting field work off the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, which forms part of the Mesoamerican Reef System. The field work has been carried out mostly in two fishing communities, El Quetzalito and Livingston, where shark fishing is one of the main sources of income for many families. Additionally, El Quetzalito is located inside the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta Manabique, a natural protected area that has a high diversity of flora and fauna.
What I do
The team I work with and I are trying to understand the local shark and ray fishery. We have been monitoring the elasmobranchs and gathering information about shark landings in Guatemala. The monitoring is vital to update scientific information about the status of sharks and rays in the country and provide a baseline of biological data for management purposes. Also, the data on the abundance and diversity of elasmobranch species in Guatemala will provide crucial information about the exploitation of these important resources.
In addition, there has been very little research into seafood labelling in Guatemala, much less any studies on which shark species are being sold and/or consumed. Sharks and rays are exploited by both artisanal and industrial fisheries, yet products derived from shark and ray fishing in Guatemala cannot be traced back to the species they come from. It is not known which species are commercialised and whether vulnerable species are being sold or bought.
In Guatemala, there is a strong tradition of consuming seafood during the weeks prior to Easter and dried fish (mostly dried fillets of shark) is one of the main products consumed during this time. The demand for shark products is thus particularly high between October and March. I believe it is important to identify which elasmobranch species are being commercialised the most and to determine whether endangered or protected species are being traded in Guatemala. By conducting this research we also aim to generate information that will help to create an awareness of the seafood products being sold and consumed in the country.