Sandra is using multiple methods to characterise the shark communities in Colombia’s Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. Using a combination of baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVs), underwater visual census (UVC) done on scuba dives, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives and tracking information downloaded from acoustic telemetry receivers, she hopes to improve the kind of information available about sharks and rays in this marine protected area in the Colombian Pacific Ocean. Her work will help detail population trends, current threats and species composition in the region. The project will hopefully strengthen research and monitoring at Malpelo.
I am a naturalist, environmentalist and conservationist with a Master’s degree in earth and life sciences from the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Perpignan, France. I am also a professional diver with more than 7,000 dives around the world to my name. I have committed my career to the conservation of marine biodiversity and to respecting the environment.
I actively promoted the designation of the Malpelo Island Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, off the Pacific coast of Colombia, as a marine protected area in 1995. Three years later I was asked to manage it, with a view to reinforcing...
To strengthen research and monitoring at Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary in order to protect its biodiversity.
Research at Malpelo is needed to evaluate the population trends, abundance and species composition of sharks and fish within the sanctuary and to identify threats to them. Keeping a record of these data enables us to measure whether, and to what extent, the conservation actions we have taken are effective.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific is an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres (7,720 square miles) shared between the exclusive economic zones of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica and the international waters between them. Within this region there are oceanic islands of great biological relevance around which marine protected areas have been declared. Among these, Cocos National Park (Costa Rica), the Galápagos Marine Reserve (Ecuador), the Coiba National Park (Panama) and the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary stand out. Previous studies have suggested that these islands share multiple species of sharks and turtles, such as the scalloped hammerhead shark, the whale shark and green and leatherback turtles.
The Colombian Pacific faces the consequences of harmful anthropogenic activities such as overfishing, mining and plastic pollution. At Malpelo in particular, a decline in the abundance of most of the species assessed (bluefin trevally, longfin yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, leather bass, sailfin grouper, spotted eagle ray, silky shark, Galápagos shark, whitetip reef shark, whale shark and scalloped hammerhead shark) has been observed. The scalloped hammerhead, in fact, decreased by 73.3% between 2009 and 2019. However, no significant variation in the relative abundance of spotted eagle rays and whitetip reef sharks was recorded. These two species apparently spend their entire life cycle in the sanctuary. These results suggest that conservation measures taken so far have been effective, but at the same time that the marine protected area is suffering the consequences of what is happening outside its limits.
Anna is collecting genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this species’ population size in South Africa. Using close-kin mark-recapture analysis instead of traditional methods, she hopes to provide an accurate account of South Africa’s white shark population size. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can use genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. This information is needed in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species is balanced against concerns about bather safety, and where sharks are caught in bather protection gear.
Faqih is filling the gaps in the scant knowledge of giant guitarfish in Java’s Karimunjawa National Park marine protected area (MPA). Karimunjawa is located near Northern Java’s main fishing grounds, but evidence of giant guitarfish caught in some of the use-zones of the MPA hints that the park may be a sanctuary for the species. Managing giant guitarfish in Karimunjawa requires species-specific information.
Faqih’s project is a socio-ecological one to help inform management and draws on new information about relative abundance and distribution, historical occurrence and fishing pressures to paint a contemporary picture of the species in the park.
Cindy wants to know if bonnethead sharks in the Eastern Pacific constitute a third, cryptic species. The Bonnethead complex need clarification in all its distribution range, and Panama is a key country to solve this question since we have the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean. By collecting fin clip samples to compare species at the genetic level and collecting specimens to compare how they look (morphology), Cindy hopes to resolve the taxonomy of Sphyrna tiburo vespertina – that is, whether it’s a cryptic third species for bonnetheads in the region. Her information can help update the IUCN Red List for bonnetheads and improve fisheries policies in Latin America where bonnethead sharks are commonly caught.