Project Leader

Mariana Fuentes

Mariana Fuentes

Who I am

I am an avid adventurer and traveller with a love for nature and a huge concern about our planet’s natural environment. Being raised in Brazil’s São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world, I didn’t have many opportunities to explore and experience nature during my childhood. Travel provided the connection that I so desired. After living in England during my early teens and learning about African culture and history, my dream was to live in Africa and be a veterinarian for big animals. Luckily, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Zimbabwe when I turned 16. An elephant chasing me while I was there was the turning point, though, and I decided that working with big animals was not for me. A year later I went to the Cayman Islands and visited a manta ray foraging area, where a ray gave me a huge hickey. Fascinated by the rays’ behaviour, I struck up conversations with the local marine biologists. After this trip I knew I was going to join their ranks. I moved to Australia to undertake my undergraduate degree in marine biology and environmental sciences. During my first year as an undergraduate I went back to Brazil to conduct a one-month internship at Projeto Tamar (a sea turtle group in Brazil). Since then I have been captivated by sea turtles and have been motivated to work for their conservation. In most of the places where I work I am now known as ‘the turtle girl’.

Where I work

Explaining where I work is as difficult as saying where I am from. As sea turtles are highly migratory, so is my work. I have worked at various projects in Australia, Brazil, Madagascar, Vanuatu, Barbados and the USA, providing biological and ecological data to inform the management and conservation of sea turtles. The geographic locations of my projects are driven by the need of the research in those locations. I am extremely excited at the prospect of working at Bimini in The Bahamas. The surrounding waters provide important habitat for several species of shark and sea turtle and they are an ideal location for investigating the interaction between sharks and turtles.

What I do

Understanding the details and drivers of predator–prey interactions is important for predicting community dynamics and to inform the management of species and their conservation. Although there is an overlap in the distribution of shark species known to predate on sea turtles, there is limited information about the interactions between these species. There are also few insights into habitat overlap or how encounters with predators influence turtles’ decisions on how they use their habitat. Our project aims to improve the understanding of how the presence of sharks influences the habitat use of sea turtles and to elucidate whether shark behaviour is influenced by high turtle density. To explore this we will acoustically tag a number of shark and turtle species simultaneously. The results we achieve will address important ecological questions and can inform the development of effective marine protected areas and the successful management of turtles, sharks and their habitats. This is particularly important at Bimini, where widespread habitat degradation is taking place to accommodate the expansion of land-based tourism.

My project

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