Ilse is working with fishers of the largest coastal lagoon in south-east Mexico. Terminos Lagoon is located in the state of Campeche, in the Yucatán 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 to glean insights into the sharks from their fishing tales and lifetime of stories.
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...
To develop coastal communities’ awareness of the ecological importance of Terminos Lagoon as a habitat for elasmobranchs. We will also recover local ecological knowledge to empower the current generation of fishers to protect local elasmobranch populations.
Terminos Lagoon is an important nursery area for elasmobranchs and a traditional fishing area for local fishers. Nowadays, only old fishers remember that elasmobranchs were once present 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 existing management strategies.
There is a great diversity of elasmobranchs in the southern Gulf of Mexico, with about 30 species registered for the elasmobranch fisheries in Campeche. Terminos Lagoon has been recognised as a nursery area for several shark species. Despite the socio-cultural and economic importance of the elasmobranch fisheries in the region, it was only in the 1980s that the fisheries were first categorised by governmental research institutes and only since 1997 that a select few scientific papers have been published. However, these publications do not cover the whole history of the fishery, which could result in a shifted baseline, especially in an area that has experienced intense fishing pressure and has gone through severe environmental changes, including oil spills and coastal development, since the 1940s. Sawfish species have apparently been locally extirpated, which makes it even more urgent 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 in which members of local communities have featured has had the positive effect of increasing local participation, encouraging changes in attitudes towards conservation and empowering communities. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that short videos featuring experienced fishers, participatory mapping to which community members of all ages contribute, and a workshop where this knowledge is transferred, combine to increase local awareness and interest in elasmobranch conservation.
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.