Diana is diving deep into the waters of the Azores to find non-harmful ways to document the diversity and abundance of deep-water sharks. Combining environmental DNA (eDNA) samples taken from depths of as much as 1500 m, with deep-sea baited remote underwater video system (BRUVs) records, she will contrast her findings using these two non-invasive methods with those from the existing demersal longline research fishing surveys. Through this project, she hopes to identify the most sustainable ways to monitor the more than 30 deep-sea sharks and rays caught as bycatch by bottom longline and handline fishing around the Azores.
For as long as I can remember I have had a passion for nature and its inhabitants, and for the sea in particular. I grew up in a small coastal village close to Sintra in Portugal and spent summer holidays playing at the beach. I was always very curious about all the creatures in the rock pools and would dedicate part of the day to checking what the tide had left on the sand, on the rocks, and in the pools – and I still love doing that today! In my teens, I went on a trip to the Azores,...
This project aims to compare the efficiency of two non-invasive methods (eDNA, BRUVs) with deep-sea longlines surveys as biomonitoring tools. We also aim to collect novel knowledge on deep-sea elasmobranchs biodiversity and spatial distribution and identify deep-sea essential habitats and species hot-spots for sustainable management and conservation.
Deep-water elasmobranchs (DWE) are among the most vulnerable fish species known to date with nearly half the species in the North-East Atlantic listed as at risk by IUCN. Despite fishing being prohibited for most species, DWE are caught as bycatch in bottom longline fisheries in the Azores, NE Atlantic. Current monitoring is mostly done by lethal fishing methods. Therefore, alternative non-invasive methodologies are needed for monitoring, without further compromising the conservation of this vulnerable biodiversity.
Many elasmobranchs inhabiting the deep sea live long, reproduce late, and produce few pups. All of these make them particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures such as fishing, habitat degradation, deep-sea mining, and climate change. Knowledge of DWE biodiversity, abundances, essential habitats where key life-history steps occur, spatial ecology and distribution is of great importance for effective and sustainable fisheries management and promote species conservation but is still greatly lacking. Studying DWE is difficult due to their remote habitat, costly to assess, and uncertainties still remaining on the species identification. Furthermore, traditional biomonitoring typically relies on fishing methods which are often lethal. This project will assess the potential of two non-invasive methods, the innovative environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV), in comparison with a fishing survey, to evaluate spatial abundance and biodiversity patterns of DWE in the Azores. The use of eDNA is especially relevant for monitoring vulnerable species such as DWE, overcoming many of the limitations of traditional fishing methods allowing species identification with high accuracy and resolution from water samples. This methodology has proven its efficiency in tracing elusive species, like sharks that were thought to be locally extinct, and it can be a powerful tool in detecting cryptic and rare species. It will be the first time this method will be tested on DWE. BRUVs is also a promising non-invasive alternative that has been widely used to document top predators’ biodiversity, habitat and behaviour, that can allow the detection of cryptic species and to estimate local abundances.
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.