Kim and Atlantine are filling in the missing information for one of the five Endangered devil ray species that call the Atlantic Ocean home. The pygmy devil ray is declining throughout its range, but little is known about its biology and ecology that can help conserve it. Kim and Atlantine are investigating how many populations of pygmy devil ray exist in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and if they are connected. They want to know about their diet, their place in the food web and their movement patterns. All this information will also help raise awareness about this vulnerable devil ray.
As a kid growing up in the woodland wilderness of Connecticut, USA, I was a curious-about-nature geek, inspired by all things great and small. In high school I went on a whale-watching trip and literally caught the eye of a spyhopping right whale, which set me on a career path to dive into the marine realm. For my undergraduate and graduate work at the University of California at Santa Cruz I was involved in field studies of a variety of marine organisms: tidal pool critters, elephant seals, Hawaiian spinner dolphins, California sea otters and bottlenose dolphins. For...
I have always been fascinated by nature and wildlife in general, but it was only when I interned as a research assistant in Mozambique in 2018 that I discovered that my true calling was to study the marine world. There, one enigmatic ray quickly became my obsession and the focus of my research: the smalleye stingray, the largest marine stingray in the world and one of the rarest. Leading the first population study on this data-deficient and probably endangered species was a turning point for the budding researcher I was, and this experience completely changed my career aspirations....
The key objective of this project is to fill critical knowledge gaps on an Endangered, data-deficient mobulid species in the Gulf of Mexico in order to inform management and conservation strategies.
The population of the west Atlantic pygmy devil ray Mobula hypostoma is suspected to be declining throughout its range due to being taken as bycatch, and the species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Since so little is known about its biology and ecology, this project provides an opportunity to collect critical data in north-western Florida, where these ‘mini manta rays’ are regularly seen in shallow water in winter, and to raise public awareness about the species’ conservation.
The Atlantic Ocean is home to seven of the 11 existing mobulid species: two manta rays and five devil rays. All of them are currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, based on reduced sightings and landings in fisheries in the past decade. Whereas manta rays have been increasingly studied recently – due in part to their popularity with the dive community and high ecotourism value – devil rays are generally more associated with offshore habitats and their skittish nature makes them difficult to approach underwater and thus to study in the field. Therefore, major knowledge gaps still exist about their biology and ecology, and even their exact taxonomy remains to be clearly established. These pressing knowledge gaps must be filled in order to facilitate improved science-based management of these vulnerable yet understudied species, and large-scale collaborative efforts between researchers and non-scientific stakeholders are key.
The primary goal of this project is to fill critical knowledge gaps about the west Atlantic pygmy devil ray in the Gulf of Mexico in order to inform management and conservation strategies for the species. The aims are:
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.