If I had to define myself in a word, I would probably choose thalassophile, a lover of the sea.
Born and raised in a seaside town in Portugal, I was lucky to be in touch with the sea and become fascinated by the marine ecosystem from a very early age. By the time I was a young adult, it came as no surprise that I would pursue a degree in marine sciences and conservation. To understand the sea and its organisms has always been a dream and during my studies I was able to conduct research and work in very different fields of marine science, as well as in different locations around the globe, including Brazil, France, Portugal and Belgium.
Elasmobranchs always fascinated me, particularly sharks. I guess I always felt that the public did not pay them the right attention or realise their true importance. Most people fear shark attacks, but I wish they could understand more about these species, the impact they have on the ecosystem and how many of them are endangered.
After moving to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, I started volunteering for Gulf Elasmo Project, with the main responsibility of increasing awareness about the status of elasmobranchs in the region. I did this by engaging with students, communities and various other stakeholders as an educational coordinator.
While volunteering, I absorbed field experience relating to taxonomy and fisheries practices like a sponge, which led to a determination to get back into research, this time in an area that I am deeply passionate about: elasmobranchs.
Even though still volunteering for Gulf Elasmo Project, I decided to establish a research project based in Angola, my family’s country of origin, in West Africa. This project will be the first long-term research to be conducted in that part of the world and the first step towards the development of regional conservation strategies for these species, since there is no information available about the catch composition of sharks and rays or the impact of artisanal or industrial fisheries on these populations.
The aim of this research project is to increase knowledge and provide baseline information and long-term scientific data to fill the gaps in species-specific information, as well as to understand the biodiversity of elasmobranchs along the coast of Angola.
The Save Our Seas Foundation’s association with this project will give direct support to field work and raise international awareness about the subject. It is extremely important to raise concerns regarding the marine environment of West Africa, and especially of Angola, a country with no awareness of environmental conservation and no policies regarding conservation and fisheries. Its marine data, moreover, are insufficient and there is no indication that this dramatic situation will be addressed in the near future because of the country’s socio-economic pressures. A partnership with the SOSF puts this project on the right path to successful research, to conservation of these species and to education about sustainable fishery practices in the region.
The Gulf Elasmo Project was truly an opening door to this amazing journey, as it was an opportunity to learn so much about these extraordinary creatures, culminating in this exciting project in Angola.
Although I have not been in the field for very long, my experiences of, knowledge about and passion for sharks and rays are solid and growing. In the past few years I have had the pleasure of working not only with very experienced professionals in this sphere, but also in a unique and understudied habitat. Such rich experiences have been key in developing my knowledge and giving me the confidence to launch the Angola Elasmo Project. My goal is that hard work and continued dedication will contribute to the effective protection of sharks and rays, improve their conservation status and raise awareness about their biodiversity.