Project Leader

Martina Lonati

Martina Lonati

Who I am

I was born in Italy and grew up sailing across the Mediterranean Sea, learning about the ocean and the winds and exploring the unique temperate ecosystems of my home waters. I had stubbornly decided to become a marine biologist when I was very young, fighting the prejudice against such a choice and reassuring my parents that I would find a place in this career that they did not really understand. As soon as I graduated from high school, I left my home town and travelled to Fiji to volunteer in a shark conservation programme. Conducting underwater surveys, shark tagging and community outreach workshops, I had the privilege to work with leading shark scientists, who encouraged me to apply for a degree at James Cook University in northern Queensland, Australia. While studying, I worked for the Global Fin Print project, volunteered to work on great white sharks in Gansbaai, South Africa, and continued to grow my passion for the research and conservation of sharks and rays. While working as a scientific diver in the Crown of Thorns Control Programme on the Great Barrier Reef, I realised that there was little data on shark and ray populations and the conservation status of the reef, so I developed a citizen science project on board, collecting data on daily sightings of sharks and rays, year-round and from many different years. This project then developed into my research at James Cook University. Before long I realised how new technologies like artificial intelligence and underwater drones can substantially improve the performance of researchers and contribute to collecting more accurate and representative data on reef sharks and rays through non-invasive and non-extractive techniques.

Where I work

I am currently based at James Cook University and conduct my research on the northern Great Barrier Reef, within the pristine Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and with a focus on the assessment and protection of the reef sharks and rays that inhabit this region.

What I do

Within elasmobranch research, I concentrate on the application of new technologies to complement and improve non-invasive, non-extractive field techniques in shark and ray research. At the moment, I am developing the first standardised methodology of remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) as a means to collect nocturnal data on reef sharks and rays, overcoming the safety limitations of scuba diving. For instance, it is broadly accepted that many elasmobranch species tend to be most active at dawn and dusk and during the night, when diving for research purposes is often forbidden for safety reasons. As a result, the available knowledge on sharks and rays relies on daytime data, potentially providing misrepresentative evidence. Underwater drones have been recently popular in the marine construction industry, but their use for underwater research purposes is quite new. Indeed, pilot studies and methodologies are needed to implement this technology so that it fits the purposes of underwater research, especially when investigating species that are cryptic and shy and seldom seen on day-time underwater surveys.

My project

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