Who I am
I grew up in Liverpool, a historic maritime city in the UK, but my passion for marine life was nurtured during holidays to the Canary Islands and Caribbean. I learnt to swim and snorkel at an early age. Seeing underwater for the first time is a captivating experience and it wasn’t long before I was diving to explore the diversity and colours of coral reefs. Other influential experiences included trips to fishing ports. On one occasion, I witnessed the landing of the largest mako shark on record. Consequently, I have been fascinated by sharks since childhood, particularly because of the emotions these mysterious animals evoke in humans. I read books and watched documentaries and the more I learnt, the stronger my fascination grew. My attraction to sharks and other marine life sparked my curiosity about science. At school I excelled at science, primarily because my enthusiasm for marine life fuelled my interest in biology. By the age of 12 I was determined to pursue a career in marine biology. Throughout school, university and now as a doctoral candidate, I have strived to learn more about the animals that first captivated me.
Where I work
My career has taken me to many places, from laboratories in London to mangrove wetlands in The Bahamas. After completing my Master’s degree in the English countryside, I relocated to Corpus Christi, Texas, where I am enrolled in Texas A&M University’s marine biology doctoral programme. Corpus Christi is located on the Gulf of Mexico, which is inhabited by almost 50 species of sharks. The surrounding bays and estuaries are used by many shark species as nursery habitats where offspring are born and reside for their first few years of life. The proximity of the university to these habitats enables us to conduct long-line fishing surveys each summer to document the abundance and diversity of juvenile sharks. Studying sharks in their natural habitat is a childhood ambition realised, although at times I must remind myself of this when conditions reach 100 °F(38°C) and 100% humidity! As a member of the Marine Genomics Laboratory, I study the evolutionary origins and ecological impacts of shark reproductive strategies using genetic and genomic techniques.
What I do
One aspect of my research focuses on describing patterns of genetic variation in samples of blacktip sharks from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off the USA. Blacktips are harvested by fisheries and effective management depends on determining and delineating the number of fished stocks. Since the overfishing of stocks jeopardises the long-term sustainability of blacktip populations, describing genetic variation among stocks facilitates conservation by making it possible to assess connectivity and stock structure. Female blacktips are thought to return to nurseries within their region of birth to bear offspring and this could reduce connectivity across the species range. By contrast, adult males are not thought to display regional fidelity and could facilitate connectivity by dispersing among regions. I have assessed the stock structure of blacktips in US waters, but blacktip stocks probably straddle national boundaries. If they do, appropriate management requires multinational collaboration. I am incorporating blacktip shark samples from Mexico, Cuba and The Bahamas to assess connectivity on a larger, international scale. In addition, I aim to determine whether sharks move across national boundaries and if there is a bias in the sex of these individuals.