Project

Linking local knowledge and local hearts to save the sharks of Holbox Island

Species
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2021, 2022
Status
  • Active
Project types
  • Conservation
  • Education
Affiliation
  • Mar Sustentable Ciencia y Conservacion
Description

Nadia learns about life in the sea, from those who spend their lives around the sea. Collecting Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) about sharks, sawfishes, manatees and sea turtles, she connects this information with spatial data to understand Mexico’s marine biodiversity. Nadia is focused on Holbox Island off the Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo. The island forms a coastal lagoon surrounded by mangroves (thought to be shark breeding grounds) with its seafloor covered by seagrasses. Holbox is a treasure trove of marine life that Nadia is intent on helping manage in the wake of rapid development.

Linking local knowledge and local hearts to save the sharks of Holbox Island

Nadia Rubio

Project leader
About the project leader

I founded and am the director of Mar Sustentable Ciencia y Conservación, A.C., a non-profit organisation that works to conserve marine life in Mexico’s Caribbean waters. I obtained my doctoral degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, and am currently researching how local communities exploit the near-shore areas of islands. With this information, I am developing a baseline trajectory of the diversity and accessibility of marine fauna, such as sharks, over time. I have been involved in numerous marine conservation research programmes in the Gulf of California and the Mexican...

PROJECT LOCATION : Mexico, Holbox Island
Related Blogs
By Nadia Rubio, 26th September 2022
Guardians of the Sea
In August, the Mar Sustentable team was invited to talk about our research project on Holbox Island. We presented to the ‘Guardians of the Sea’ from Cozumel Island and shared with them the diverse summer lessons on marine biodiversity and conservation that were a part…
By Nadia Rubio, 15th July 2022
World Ocean Day with Mar Sustenable
We want to give a shout-out to our students from the Sharks Club Mexico for making the past World Ocean Day a memorable one at Mar Sustentable. To celebrate World Ocean Day, our students from the Sharks Club, Mexico, who are in different states of…
By Nadia Rubio, 20th May 2022
Sharing research with other islands in the Mexican Caribbean
Our work using traditional knowledge to understand the past existence of top predators on Holbox Island was challenged by COVID. An essential part of this approach was lost with elder fishers’ tragic departure, which has left a hole in our hearts and a loss of…
By Nadia Rubio, 13th May 2022
The shark club visits Chiquilá.
The coastal town of Chiquilá is a passing town for the thousands of people that take the ferry to visit the famous Holbox Island. Here not many options exist for kids in extracurricular activities. Besides, kids from Chiquilá have limited economic access to the many…
By Nadia Rubio, 28th February 2022
The Shark Club – México
Mar Sustentable Ciencia y Conservación has been working on marine communication and environmental education in the Mexican Caribbean since 2015. As part of this work, the support of the Save Our Seas Foundation allowed us to start developing virtual workshops in Mexico for children interested…
By Nadia Rubio, 15th February 2022
Whale Shark Enthusiasts children’s campaign.
As part of our research and environmental education project sponsored by the Save Our Seas Foundation, we are committed to promoting the importance of sharks in the Mexican Caribbean and making known their importance as part of the biodiversity in this region.
Project details

The Sharks of Holbox Island: Fostering the care for local nature through education and outreach.

Key objective

The aim of this project is to promote community awareness and emphasise the importance of preserving socio-cultural values for the conservation of Holbox’s and Chiquilá’s biodiversity, focusing on sharing local knowledge about sharks and their relevance to coastal habitats. We will also generate scientific data on shark biodiversity in the region by integrating people’s traditional knowledge with historical and archaeological data.

Why is this important

Environmental education efforts need to be widespread on islands such as Holbox, which share a rich socio-cultural heritage associated with nature and face increasing human migration and tourism development that threaten local biodiversity. From pre-Columbian times, sharks were abundant and had cultural value in the Holbox region. Local knowledge about Holbox’s sharks is fading into the island’s history. Environmental education can help locals and visitors understand the value of top predators for healthy and biodiverse oceans.

Background

Tourism development and increasing landscape and coastal exploitation are a dire problem for coastal communities globally. In many regions, such as islands in Latin America, knowledge about interactions between humans and nature is still scant. This matters, especially in mega-diverse countries like Mexico, which is witnessing increasing tourism and coastal development. An example is Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, which has shown growing tourism-based economic development for more than 40 years. For my postdoctoral research, I studied the encroachment of coastal development on Holbox Island in Quintana Roo. Here, together with an interdisciplinary team, I initiated the generation of baseline data on fisheries exploitation and tourists’ perceptions of the environment. Our results in relation to fishers’ traditional knowledge, literature sources and archaeological records were published in <i>Marine Policy</i>. Here we reported that sharks and rays were abundant in the nearshore waters around Holbox. Overfishing until the mid-20th century led to changes in coastal food webs, illegal fishing has become widespread and there are now socio-environmental issues relating to tourism development and large sell-outs of communal land. The latter has disrupted the long-term relationship that islanders had with the sea. We will continue to document changes in the biodiversity of sharks and sawfish over time and will initiate diverse activities with the community and novel environmental education material to locally, regionally and internationally communicate about the sharks of Holbox.

Aims & objectives

This project focuses on fostering shark conservation in the Holbox region, a site that has transformed into a global tourism hotspot and now faces environmental degradation, social conflict and overfishing, and benefits from very few environmental education programmes. Few people know that sharks populated the waters around Holbox. The island’s tourism development brought losses and changes in socio-cultural values relating to the conservation of local biodiversity. The project’s activities will comprise:

  • shark environmental education activities for kids;
  • community events to increase awareness of shark conservation;
  • the collection of shark biodiversity data using our published methodology of integrating traditional knowledge and archaeological shark data (records span more than 2,000 years) from our collaboration with the Costa Escondida Project;
  • the generation of sound environmental education and scientific products for shark conservation. Our team’s connections with locals involved in conservation and the K-12 schools on Chiquilá and Holbox will be crucial for disseminating and sharing our work to promote local knowledge for shark conservation.