Project Leader

Ana Hernández

Ana Hernández

Who I am

I was born in Guatemala City, the most urbanised area of this Central American country. Despite the urban environment, I had the privilege of growing up in a natural setting, fostering my love for outdoor activities and honing my skills for observing nature. This upbringing naturally led me to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in biology at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.

When I completed my studies, my path converged with Blue World Foundation (BWF), an organisation dedicated to safeguarding shark and ray populations in Guatemala. While my interests and study subjects have evolved over the years, all my projects share a common goal: to promote the appreciation of Guatemala’s natural resources. The vision of BWF aligns with my belief in a Guatemala that values and preserves its biological resources through science and the improvement of social, environmental and economic conditions. That is why I lead and support the applied research department and participate in the environmental education and community leadership projects at BWF.

In these projects, I conduct workshops about the importance of chondrichthyans in the ocean in order to increase the awareness of fishing communities about the conservation of these at-risk species. In addition, and working alongside local fishers, I lead the monitoring of chondrichthyans landed during artisanal fishing activities. This enables me to gather data on catch composition and rates, as well as the fishing effort. I have also participated in shark-tagging projects on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Guatemala, focusing on identifying nursery areas and promoting their protection. Through these efforts, I aim to contribute to the recovery of chondrichthyan populations and ensure their sustainable future. These experiences have enhanced my research and community engagement skills, which I’m dedicated to employing for the benefit of wildlife and local communities.

Where I work

I work with the coastal fishing community of El Quetzalito, on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, within the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge. El Quetzalito is a significant hub for chondrichthyan landings, encompassing both nearshore and deep-water species.

The community’s artisanal fishing focuses predominantly on sharks, employing gear like longlines and gill nets. Over a number of years, BWF has monitored chondrichthyan landings by artisanal fishers in El Quetzalito. This concerted effort has led to the identification of eight new chondrichthyan species, which highlights the existence of information gaps in relation to deep-sea chondrichthyans in Caribbean waters. More importantly, this emphasises the critical need – and opportunity – for comprehensive research in this area and underscores the imperative to conserve these chondrichthyan species that contribute to the sustenance of coastal communities in this part of the country.

What I do

My role involves collaborating closely with the fishers of El Quetzalito, focusing on both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent surveys to determine catch composition and catch rate estimations of chondrichthyans in the area.

For fishery-dependent surveys, I train fishers to monitor chondrichthyan landings within the community. This includes recording data on fishing gear and the number of individual chondrichthyans caught, classified by species, size and sex. We also gather information about maturity stages through relevant literature reported in the area, while also tracking fishing efforts. Complementing these efforts are the fishery-independent surveys. These early morning endeavours require meticulous preparation, setting up longline sets at seven fishing points ranging from 300 to 450 metres (984 to 1,476 feet) deep. The strategic selection of these points is guided by the fishermen’s expertise, as they indicate where deep-water species are typically caught. Once a specimen is captured, we tag it using floy tags, collect detailed data on species, size and sex, and take a small piece of pelvic fin for genetic analysis to corroborate identification. Then the individual is released.

During the approximately eight hours that we work in the field alongside the fishers on these fishery-independent surveys, researchers and fishers exchange knowledge and experiences. This interaction fosters a deeper understanding of daily life, perspectives on fishing and the current state of chondrichthyan populations, providing us with insights to develop and promote sustainable practices for both chondrichthyan populations and communities’ welfare. In addition, survey results and species’ life-history information are shared through educational materials and infographics with fishers. This cultivates awareness about the vulnerability of deep-water species and the need for their conservation.

My project

Project See project and more news