Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.
A native Cameroonian, I was born in the coastal city of Douala and spent my childhood there. I enjoyed swimming with my friends despite my parents’ ban. I grew up in a social environment where all animals were perceived primarily as meat. My perception of wildlife changed during an ecology class of my Master’s programme, when I realised that wildlife species may go extinct if they are exploited unsustainably. I took the initiative to study one of them, the African manatee, in a protected area called Lake Ossa. It was my first encounter with a live animal species in the...
In this project, we generate scientific data that will be used to inform policy-makers about the status of elasmobranchs in Cameroon and convince them to enact legal protection. We also aim to make local communities aware of the conservation status of threatened species of sharks and rays.
Elasmobranchs are the most targeted aquatic mega-fauna in Cameroon, representing 97% of the by-catch we documented. They are also poorly known. So far we have recorded 33 species, of which 11 are threatened, including the extremely rare Mobula rochebrunei. However, none of them are protected by Cameroonian law. If nothing is done, some may disappear. We will use citizen science and genetic research to improve knowledge of these species, which will inform policies and management.
In Cameroon, aquatic mega-fauna species are poorly known and mostly seen as a source of protein. Sharks and rays appear to be the most threatened, representing about 97% of the total mega-fauna by-catch along the coast of Cameroon. Until recently, it was not clear which elasmobranch species are present along this coast. In 2015 I initiated the SIREN citizen science project, which involves volunteer fishers using the SIREN mobile app to document their sightings and landings of aquatic mega-fauna along the coast. Through this initiative, we have identified 33 elasmobranch species, 11 of which are categorised as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As none of the species are legally protected in Cameroon, many fishers catch, either intentionally or unintentionally, thousands of sharks and rays every year without being concerned about legal consequences. These animals are sold openly in various forms – fresh, frozen or smoked. If nothing is done, the populations of many of these species may disappear before they are studied. We recently ‘rediscovered’ a species we believe was Mobula rochebrunei, an extremely rare mobula ray that had not been documented since it was described in 1960. We aim to improve scientific knowledge about elasmobranchs, which will be useful to orient conservation strategies. We will also increase local awareness about these species. This work is a step towards a broader project to establish community marine protected areas in coastal zones of Cameroon that have high conservation value. The information from this study will be combined with what is known about other mega-fauna species in Cameroon to derive a broader view of the value of conservation. The combined information will also be useful for generating a national coastal and marine management plan.
The aim of this project is to establish a centralised base of scientific knowledge that will support the conservation of shark and ray populations along the coast of Cameroon, while taking into account the interests of the local community. My team and I hope to achieve the following objectives to meet this goal:
Demian’s team is developing tools that help border control officers identify illegal shark products. His project is sifting through ‘rhino ray’ DNA sequences looking for differences in code between the guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes nicknamed for their pointy snouts (and Endangered status). Months of testing will help ensure only rhino ray DNA is targeted before the team flies to Hong Kong to help officials use a portable DNA tester. This project will add to the arsenal currently being used to identify illegal shark fins moving across borders, and help stop the trafficking of ‘rhino ray’ fins.
Ali is collaborating with researchers across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to develop support tools for guitarfish conservation. As an advocate, much of her work is completed behind a computer and locked in meetings, but her goal is to help bring awareness to the Threatened status of guitarfish in the Mediterranean. As the current Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, Ali represents a large number of regional partners to engage with governments, develop new resources and coordinate guitarfish conservation activities.
Nadia learns about life in the sea, from those who spend their lives around the sea. Collecting Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) about sharks, sawfishes, manatees and sea turtles, she connects this information with spatial data to understand Mexico’s marine biodiversity. Nadia is focused on Holbox Island off the Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo. The island forms a coastal lagoon surrounded by mangroves (thought to be shark breeding grounds) with its seafloor covered by seagrasses. Holbox is a treasure trove of marine life that Nadia is intent on helping manage in the wake of rapid development.