Lionel is gaining insights into Cameroon’s sharks and their conservation status. His focus lies in Cameroon’s north coast, a stretch that runs for over 160 km at the foot of the mount Cameroon, central Africa’s highest mountain and an active volcano. He is scouring landing sites and fish markets, as well as gleaning traditional ecological knowledge with interview surveys and questionnaires. The region Lionel is researching hosts critical habitats for sharks and rays and is a proposed marine protected area. His goal is to provide decision-makers 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 key objective 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 diversity, abundance and threats to these species in the area as well as evaluate and raise the level of local awareness.
This project will be conducted in Cameroon (3° 52′ 0 N, 11° 31′ 0 E). Cameroon is an African country located slightly above the equator in the Central Africa Region. The country is bordering Nigeria in the West, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo in the South, Chad in the North and the Central Africa Republic in the East. The project will be located on 04 sites on the northern coastline including Limbe (4.02° N, 9.21° E), Batoke (4.02’30”N, 9.06’21”E), Bakingili (4 04′ 17”N 9 02′ 28”E) and Idenau (4°13′ 60″ N 8° 58′ 60″E) bordering the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The northern coastline is part of the South-West region of Cameroon and is open on the Atlantic Ocean in the gulf of Guinea. The region stretches over 160km and encompasses about 50% of the Cameroon’s total coastal length. We can find there an unusual ecological richness and biodiversity including sea birds, marine mammals, sea turtles and elasmobranch species. The particularity of this coastal area is the black color of sandy beaches.
There is no legal status 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 on the ecology and threats to sharks that will help assess their conservation status and improve the current wildlife legislation for a 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 of extinction include species that are globally classified into Endangered and Critically Endangered categories that include also Sphyrna mokarran and Dasyatis margarita, the species that are specially targeted in this study. While industrial longline fleets are responsible for the largest component of elasmobranch landings worldwide, landings from 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 a historically low priority given to these fishes over many years. Yet in the country, elasmobranchs are at risk because of high levels of targeted fishing and by-catch and are not included in the wildlife law, thus there is no legal status protecting them. Most of the fishery data we have in-country come from the south coast as several studies have been already done there. However, we don’t know too much about fishery activities on the north coast that can be of threat to sharks as the area have been affected by many years of conflict that prevented several pieces of research to be carried out there. Though providing reliable scientific data on sharks is very important for the conservation of these species in this area, developing awareness will also play a critical role. Our project will set the first foundations for conservation and long-term management of sharks in the country by providing baseline data that will allow assessing the conservation status of these species and will guide future conservation actions in the area while also serving as decision-making tools 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. 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.