Mexico’s forgotten sharks: rediscovering a natural legacy

  • Rays & Skates
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2021
  • Active
Project types
  • Conservation
  • Research
  • Mar Sustentable Ciencia y Conservacion

Ilse is working with fishers around the largest coastal lagoon in southeast Mexico. Terminos Lagoon is located in the state of Campeche, in the Yucatan Peninsula and has a fishing history dating back to the Mayans. While Terminos is important to Mexico’s coastal economy and culture, it’s also an important site for sharks and rays. So Ilse will be interviewing coastal fishers, gleaning insights into which sharks are to be found from their fishing tales and lifetime of stories.

Mexico’s forgotten sharks: rediscovering a natural legacy

Ilse Alejandra Martinez

Project leader
About the project leader

Despite living in Mexico City, from the age of seven I have been obsessed with marine life. So I became a hydrobiologist. I was always interested in sharks but had no opportunity to study them in college. So instead I did internships and volunteered in conservation projects that allowed me to get involved in shark and marine conservation. However, I was never the kind of biologist who fits perfectly into a mould. I love being out in the field, but I am also interested in human nature and how people interact. Studying the artisanal shark fisheries in the southern Gulf...

Project details

Forgotten elasmobranchs: rediscovering a natural legacy

Key objective

Develop coastal communities’ awareness of the ecological importance of the Terminos lagoon as elasmobranchs’ habitat. Recover local ecological knowledge to empower the youngest generation of fishers to protect local elasmobranch populations.

Why is this important

Terminos Lagoon is an important nursery area for elasmobranchs and a traditional fishing area for local fishers. Nowadays, only old fishers have knowledge of the past presence of the elasmobranch in the lagoon. It is crucial to recover the local ecological knowledge, as every year, information that could be used for the conservation of threatened species is lost, and with it, the opportunity to empower coastal communities, and improve the existing management strategies.


There is a great diversity of elasmobranchs in the southern Gulf of Mexico, with around 30 elasmobranch species registered for the elasmobranch fisheries in Campeche. Terminos Lagoon has been recognized as a nursery area for several shark species. Despite the socio-cultural and economic importance of the elasmobranch fisheries in the region; it was until the 1980s, that the first characterizations of the fisheries were made by governmental research institutes, followed by a select few scientific publications from 1997 to date. However, these publications do not cover the whole history of the fishery. This could result in a shifted baseline, especially in an area that has experienced intense fishing pressure, and has gone through severe environmental changes such as oil spills due to the proximity to oil rigs, and coastal development since the 1940s. Apparently, the sawfish species have been locally extirpated, urging to establish a local elasmobranch baseline to identify the most vulnerable species and start planning adequate conservation strategies. Participatory mapping has been proposed as a powerful tool for biocultural conservation, and the use of documentaries starred by the communities has had positive outcomes to increase the local participation, changes in attitudes towards conservation, and empowerment of the communities. This is the first time, to our knowledge, where short videos featuring experienced fishers, participatory mapping where members of the communities of all ages participate, and a workshop where this knowledge is transferred, are combined to increase local awareness and interest in elasmobranch conservation.

Aims & objectives

Develop an elasmobranch baseline for the Terminos Lagoon and create short and inspiring videos for each community, where the most experienced fishers share their knowledge and experiences. Create a map that reflects the communities’ collective knowledge. Use the resulting map as a tool to highlight the loss of elasmobranch species over time, and highlight the importance of coastal communities to protect threatened elasmobranchs. Increase interest in elasmobranch conservation in the region, and inform the members of the coastal communities of the current elasmobranch fishing management measures, including closed seasons, forbidden fishing gears, and areas where shark fishing is prohibited.