Pelayo is on a mission to keep the Galapagos, in his words: ‘the sharkiest place on the planet’. Leveraging what he’s learned from baseline surveys, and collaboration with Professor Mahmood Shivji at the Save our Seas Shark Research Centre (SOS-SRC), his research is now assessing the migratory routes and population genetics of pregnant scalloped hammerhead sharks across the Tropical Eastern Pacific. He is also investigating the movement ecology of female silky sharks in relation to regional fishing fleets around the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). Pelayo continues to advise on shark conservation policy in the region and heighten awareness around its rich marine heritage.
I’m a happy marine ecologist! Since I was a child, I have loved spending as much time as possible in the water. My childhood summers were divided between the rugged Cantabrian coast of Asturias in northern Spain, where I was born, and the idyllic Mediterranean coast of southern Spain, where my dad’s family is from. I moved to the UK when I was 18 to study marine and freshwater biology at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. I got carried away and four years later found myself completing an MSc in the environmental management of marine ecosystems. Then...
Pelayo uses a combination of applied research on key shark species, educational and outreach efforts with the local community, and technical assistance to policy makers, to help conserve the Galapagos as the region with the world’s highest shark biomass.
Overfishing and other human induced stressors have put many shark species on the brink of extinction. The GMR represents a window to the ocean from the past where sharks and other top predators still reign. With ever-increasing fishing pressure around the last ocean wilderness and the global menace of climate change, the aim is to gather relevant knowledge on the ecology of key shark species to inform policies aimed at conserving the Galapagos as the sharkiest place on earth, while inspiring and actively involving the local community in shark conservation.
Since 2015 that we obtained the support of the SOSF to conduct the project ‘Sharks in the birthplace of evolution’ that provided the most comprehensive baseline on the diversity and abundance of sharks across the archipelago and the start of a shark education and outreach program with the local community, we have continued to expand our shark research, educational and conservation program. In 2017 we started a long-term collaboration with Prof. Mahmood Shivji, director of the Save Our Seas Shark Research Center (SOS-SRC), that was kickstarted by our ‘hot’ discovery on the deep-sea Pacific white skate using hydrothermal vents to incubate their eggs, a behaviour never documented before for the marine environment.
This collaboration with the SOS-SRC has continued to develop in recent years and we are now embarked in a number of joint research projects aimed at better understanding the ecology of key shark species. Two ongoing projects are focused on the movement ecology and population genetics of the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and silky (Carcharhinus falcifomis) sharks across the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Both species form large seasonal within the GMR, but are also known to be highly migratory during certain times of the year, like the case of pregnant hammerhead sharks that likely undertake reproductive migrations from the Galapagos to mangrove bays located along the coast of central and south America. Since both species are heavily targeted by both industrial and artisanal fishing fleets, better understanding their movement ecology and population connectivity will allow us to better inform conservation policies aimed at reverting ongoing population declines.
Demian’s team is developing tools that help border control officers identify illegal shark products. His project is sifting through ‘rhino ray’ DNA sequences looking for differences in code between the guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes nicknamed for their pointy snouts (and Endangered status). Months of testing will help ensure only rhino ray DNA is targeted before the team flies to Hong Kong to help officials use a portable DNA tester. This project will add to the arsenal currently being used to identify illegal shark fins moving across borders, and help stop the trafficking of ‘rhino ray’ fins.
Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.
Ali is collaborating with researchers across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to develop support tools for guitarfish conservation. As an advocate, much of her work is completed behind a computer and locked in meetings, but her goal is to help bring awareness to the threatened status of guitarfish in the Mediterranean. The current Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, Ali represents a large number of regional partners to engage with governments, develop new resources and coordinate guitarfish conservation activities.