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.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.