Coming from a maritime family and living by the coast meant that from a young age I got to know the underwater world and its species and they have played a major role in my life. Some of my earliest memories are of waking up before sunrise to head out fishing with my father before school. As I grew older and learned to scuba dive, my time above and below the water increased. Most weekends during the summer involved exploring the variety of dive sites and observing the rich habitats along the North Wales coast. To further my knowledge of the marine world I did an undergraduate degree in applied marine biology at Bangor University. In 2016, as part of the course, I obtained a placement year with Natural Resources Wales and this gave me an opportunity to acquire more practical experience, including getting involved in gathering information about the Critically Endangered angelshark Squatina squatina off the Welsh coast.
The rugged coastline of Wales isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about shark research, but it may be a haven for angelsharks in the north-eastern Atlantic. Living and working along the North Wales coast has meant that I am fortunate to be involved in research on a unique shark species and can use my HSE Professional scuba diver qualifications in my work. I spend a lot of time underwater filming and surveying the wide range of species and habitats around Wales. I actively share diving experiences on social media to bring the underwater world to audiences who don’t usually get to see what’s below the waves.
Angel Shark Project: Wales. The project aims to better understand and safeguard angelsharks off the Welsh coast by working closely with Welsh communities and fishers. Angel Shark Project: Wales is led by Natural Resources Wales and the Zoological Society of London. The project also works closely with the Angel Shark Project: Canary Islands. Within the north-eastern Atlantic, angelsharks have found a unique stronghold in the Canary Islands and, as the islands are a popular scuba-diving destination, they are commonly reported by divers there. This provides a unique opportunity to gather valuable information about the species.
In Wales, however, the diving effort is much lower and encounters with angelsharks come from accidental captures, with only an occasional sighting from a snorkeller or diver. Therefore, as well as diving surveys, complementary tools such as BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems) may provide valuable data about the ecology and distribution of the species.
The aim of this project is to trial the use of BRUVS to monitor angelsharks. During the course of it, BRUVS will be tested in the Canary Islands, where angelsharks are relatively common, and will be placed in areas of higher and lower angelshark abundance. They will be deployed during the day and at night to detect potential diurnal variation, as the species is known to be more active during the hours of darkness. Following the trials, and if the methodology has been successful, BRUVS will then be deployed in Wales at key areas identified by the Angel Shark Project: Wales. BRUVS may prove to be a useful tool for gathering data about angelsharks when covering large areas and in regions where visibility is too low to undertake dive or snorkel surveys.