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’ll contrast her findings using these two non-invasive methods with those of 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 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 and BRUVs) with deep-sea longline surveys as bio-monitoring tools. We also aim to collect novel information about the biodiversity and spatial distribution of deep-sea elasmobranchs and to identify essential habitats and species hotspots for the sustainable management and conservation of deep-sea fish.
Deep-water elasmobranchs are among the most vulnerable fish species known to date, with nearly half the species in the north-eastern Atlantic listed as at risk by the IUCN. Although fishing for most of the species is prohibited, these elasmobranchs are taken as by-catch in bottom longline fisheries in the Azores. Because current monitoring is carried out mostly by lethal fishing methods, we need to find alternative, non-invasive methods without further compromising the conservation of these vulnerable species.
Many elasmobranchs inhabiting the depths of the ocean live long, reproduce late and produce few pups. All these life-history strategies make them particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures such as fishing, habitat degradation, deep-sea mining and climate change. Knowing the biodiversity of deep-water elasmobranchs, how abundant they are, the habitats that are essential for key stages in their life history, and their spatial ecology and distribution is very important for managing the fishery of these species effectively and sustainably and promoting their conservation. But too little is known. Studying deep-water elasmobranchs is difficult due to their remote habitat and the cost involved and because there is still uncertainty about species identification. Furthermore, traditional bio-monitoring typically relies on fishing methods that are often lethal. To evaluate spatial abundance and biodiversity patterns of deep-water elasmobranchs in the Azores, this project will assess the potential of two non-invasive methods, the innovative environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV), and compare them with a fishing survey. The use of eDNA is especially relevant for monitoring vulnerable species such as deep-water elasmobranchs, as it overcomes many of the limitations of traditional fishing methods and enables species to be identified with high accuracy and resolution from water samples. This methodology has proven its efficiency in tracing elusive species, such as 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 deep-water elasmobranchs. BRUVs is also a promising non-invasive alternative that has been widely used to document the biodiversity, habitat and behaviour of top predators, to detect cryptic species and to estimate local abundances.
Tom has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tease apart the impacts of human visitation, climate change and fishing on Adélie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Using drone footage, camera data and faecal samples collected in 2020/21 and into 2022, he’s monitoring Antarctica in years with minimal human footprint due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom wants to know whether rising sea temperatures, increasing krill fishing or a growing tourism presence is driving declines of Antarctic Peninsula penguins. By comparing 10 years’ of monitoring data to these data, he hopes to use his findings to inform policy decisions to conserve the Antarctic Peninsula’s penguin colonies.
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.