Lionel is gaining insights into Cameroon’s sharks and their conservation status. His focus lies on the country’s north coast, a stretch that runs for more than 160 km at the foot of Mount Cameroon, central Africa’s highest mountain and an active volcano. The region Lionel is researching hosts critical habitats for sharks and rays and is a proposed marine protected area. He is scouring landing sites and fish markets, and gleaning traditional ecological knowledge through interview surveys and questionnaires. His goal is to provide decision-makers with a baseline of shark and ray occurrence data to ensure their long term conservation.
I’m an early-career marine ecologist working in Cameroon with the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development. I have a Master’s degree in marine science from the University of Douala. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by marine life. I was a huge fan of the National Geographic shark documentaries when I was growing up and fell in love with these charismatic ocean predators that to me embodied all the strength and power that other kids of my age saw in their favourite superheroes. The idea of a career in marine conservation occurred to me...
The main aim of this project is to improve the conservation status of sharks and rays on the north coast of Cameroon. More specifically, the project seeks to assess the diversity, abundance and threats to these species in the area, as well as evaluate and raise the level of local awareness.
There is no legislation protecting sharks in Cameroon and people are unaware of their importance to the marine ecosystem. As a result, species are facing serious threats that are driven by overfishing and by-catch. This project will help raise awareness and will generate important data about the ecology and threats to sharks that will help assess their conservation status and improve the current wildlife legislation for long-term conservation and management in the country.
Worldwide sharks and rays, collectively known as elasmobranchs, are at a substantially higher risk of extinction than most other groups of vertebrates. Sharks and rays considered at the greatest risk are those globally classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered, which include great hammerhead sharks and daisy stingrays. While industrial long-line fleets are responsible for most elasmobranch landings worldwide, landings by artisanal fishers are also considerable, especially in developing countries. In Cameroon, research on elasmobranch species is still at a very early stage. Therefore, appropriate management to reduce threats and protect these species is hampered by a lack of data and by the historically low priority given to these fish over many years. Elasmobranchs are at risk because of high levels of targeted fishing and by-catch and they are not covered by the country’s wildlife laws, so they have no legal protection. Most of Cameroon’s fishery data come from the south coast, as several studies have been conducted there. However, we know little about fishery activities on the north coast that can be a threat to sharks as the area has been affected by many years of conflict that prevented research. Although providing reliable scientific data on sharks is very important for the conservation of these species, developing awareness about them and their predicament will also play a critical role. Our project will lay the foundation for conservation and the long-term management of sharks in Cameroon by providing baseline data that will enable the conservation status of these species to be assessed and will guide future conservation action in the area, while also serving as a decision-making tool for wildlife managers.
The aims and objectives of this project are to:
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.
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.
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.