Danny believes in the power of storytelling to shine a light on angel sharks, to start conversations, unlock historical knowledge archived in the coastal communities of the Mediterranean and East Atlantic region and even impact management decisions. He wants to contribute to the conservation of the three angel shark species (of 23 species globally) that are found in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic by telling their story and that of those working to protect them. Danny will be making a long-form film and driving an impact campaign that calls audiences to conservation action.
I have always loved learning about, understanding and experiencing all aspects of the natural world. However, a childhood of rock-pooling the beaches near my home town in North Wales and memories of gazing at fish in aquariums nurtured a particular affinity for life in the ocean. This transformed into more of an obsession once I took my first breaths underwater on scuba gear. During my first sea dive on a family holiday, we encountered a cuttlefish in an otherwise barren harbour in Malta. I often tell people that its crazy patterns and changing colours hypnotised me in some...
The overarching goal of this project is to use storytelling through film to aid the conservation of angel sharks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Three species of angel shark exist in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, but decades of intensive bycatch and targeted fishing have decimated their populations. A strategy and several regional action plans have identified the need to raise their profile and exchange knowledge with stakeholders. This is vital to assess the demographics and key habitats of any remaining angel shark populations. However, challenges exist in achieving this efficiently, given the diversity and number of nations within the region. This project will use film to draw more attention to angel sharks and ultimately help start dialogues and access the historical knowledge held within coastal communities, filling in broad data gaps that will inform future conservation management decisions.
The angel sharks are a distinct family of elasmobranchs. Consisting of 23 species, they are characterised by a dorso-ventrally flattened body, mottled appearance, an unusually flexible ‘neck’ and a trap-like jaw. This makes them highly successful ‘lie-and-wait’ ambush hunters that hide on the sea-floor substrate. They can be found in several marine habitats in warm, temperate and tropical coastal waters over continental shelves. These habitat preferences and morphological adaptations have left them highly vulnerable to human impacts, particularly that of fisheries.
As global fishing effort increased in the 20th century, angel sharks were targeted in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, sought after for their meat, liver and skin. This devastated their populations. Even as targeted fisheries have waned, the remaining angel sharks are easily entangled in large, mesh gill-nets and towed trawling nets, which also damage their preferred habitats. When this is combined with a low reproductive output and presumed slow growth rate, it’s no surprise that angel sharks are the second most endangered elasmobranch family in the world.
Improving our baseline knowledge of angel shark populations can address all these challenges. Existing efforts to collect data from the public need to be intensified and broadened. However, angel sharks are not a well-known group of elasmobranchs. Even among fishers, they are often misidentified. Increasing public knowledge about these animals as efficiently and rapidly as possible will aid data collection as well as wider conservation efforts.
Storytelling through documentary film can deliver impact that leads to changes in legislation and wider behavioural shifts in society. This project will support angel shark conservation by using storytelling through film and an impact campaign to raise the profile of these animals across the East Atlantic and Mediterranean. Ultimately it will create and distribute a powerful media tool to aid in the protection and restoration of these Critically Endangered elasmobranchs.
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.