Who I am
I am a marine biologist at Florida International University (FIU), where I study the behaviour and ecological role of large marine vertebrates, including elasmobranchs, marine mammals (mostly cetaceans) and, more recently, sea turtles. I started investigating marine mammals in the late 1990s in French NGOs, when I was still in high school. I completed my PhD in 2010 at the University of La Rochelle (France), after spending five years in the Indian Ocean investigating dolphin community ecology and behaviour.
I began working on sharks in the Western Indian Ocean in 2009, conducting initial surveys and sampling programmes in Madagascar and around remote French islands and atolls (Juan de Nova, Europa) in the Mozambique Channel. In 2012, I joined Mike Heithaus’s lab at FIU in Miami, where I work on different projects on the behaviour and trophic ecology of toothed whales and dolphins, and on the ecological role of sharks in coral reef ecosystems. My work in French Polynesia started quite recently, in 2012, but is now expanding. I study the trophic ecology and behaviour of reef sharks around Moorea and in Tetiaroa Atoll. My work involves the blacktip reef shark Carcharhinus melanopters and the sicklefin lemon shark Negaprion acutidens and focuses on the adults on the fore reef (or reef slope) and the juveniles in the shallow coastal waters
Where I work
I am fortunate to work in multiple locations around the world, including the Caribbean, the Western Indian Ocean and French Polynesia, where I study a number of species in different ecological contexts. Nevertheless, my research questions remain the same: how do large marine vertebrates interact with their environment, and how do they affect the structure of communities and ecosystems?
When it comes to reef sharks, I work mostly in French Polynesia. To date I have been doing field work in the Society Islands, specifically at Moorea and Tetiaroa (the atoll that used to be owned by Marlon Brando). There, sharks are considered to be the reincarnation of elders’ spirits and are fully protected by law. This is why working in such a location is great, as we investigate truly pristine places where the abundance of sharks has probably been the same for decades. Indeed, footage dating from the 1950s features reef sharks in French Polynesia and it seems that the densities seen now have not really changed.
Being able to undertake great research on sharks in French Polynesia aside, every morning I hit the water or dive there, it is always wonderful. There are many sharks everywhere, the coral reefs are beautiful and the people are fantastic!
What I do
My research aims to investigate how non-lethal human activities affect shark populations and disrupt their ecological role in marine ecosystems. In French Polynesia, I develop methods to study populations of reef sharks and their associated communities, and such methods include surveys by drones and stationary cameras. I also study the trophic interactions of sharks among both juveniles in nursery areas and adults along the fore reef. This is particularly important to understand their ecological importance and how human activities can disrupt their functional role, such as in coral reef environments.
Shark provisioning is a common practice around the globe. However, it affects shark behaviour and populations in many different ways, including habitat use, site fidelity patterns and increased population densities. Around the French Polynesian island of Moorea, where I am supported by SOSF, shark provisioning is a significant source of income for the local community, but it induces strong behavioural modifications in sicklefin lemon sharks. The goal of my project is to investigate the effect of shark provisioning on the diet, habitat use and abundance of lemon sharks. I assess how much shark diet comes from provisioning, and thus to what extent provisioning affects the trophic ecology of sharks, by using stable isotope analyses. To establish the effect of provisioning on lemon sharks’ behaviour, how they use their habitat and the density of the population, I use passive video recording.
This project will significantly help to understand better the effect of shark feeding in Moorea, an activity that generated $5.4-million there between 2005 and 2009. We plan to communicate our results to local authorities in French Polynesia, including the Ministry of Environment, so that the management of shark provisioning activities around the island and in French Polynesia as a whole can be improved. The sicklefin is a highly vulnerable species, especially around Moorea, where the population (and the number of breeders) is small and the fragmented environment characterising these tropical islands favours inbreeding. Therefore, a management plan for lemon and other shark species is necessary to improve the sustainable use of this important resource in French Polynesia.