Banc d’Arguin, a shallow bay in Mauritania’s National Parc du Banc d’Arguin, is home to many vulnerable shark species. As many as two thirds of these are threatened with extinction. A law passed in 2000 granted exclusive fishing rights in the bay to the indigenous Imraguen fishers. Despite a further ban on shark and ray fishing, as much of 50% of the Imraguen fishers’ catches are still elasmobranchs. Carolina is assessing shark and ray diversity in the bay, improving data collected by local fishers through identification training and raising awareness among the local community about the plight of elasmobranchs.
I grew up in Madrid, nowhere near the sea. When I was young I had nightmares about sharks in our swimming pool and was afraid to venture into the ocean because of my unfounded but nonetheless terrifying fears. Unbeknown to me at the time, it was these fears that would fuel my scientific curiosity when I later attended the University of Innsbruck to obtain an undergraduate degree in biology. While a student I decided to become a certified scuba diver – and then everything snowballed. My first encounter with a shark under water was nothing short of magical! I gained...
To clarify taxonomic ambiguities of shark and ray species in the Banc d’Arguin and to identify hidden diversity in the region in order to provide a baseline for the future monitoring of fisheries, bio-monitoring surveys and conservation efforts that rely on correct species identification.
Elasmobranchs in the Banc d’Arguin are an understudied marine resource that has long been overexploited, in spite of an existing ban on shark and ray fishing. However, the region has been recognised as an important pupping, nursery and feeding ground for some species and is presumed to represent an essential habitat for many other threatened species. Hence, to paraphrase Baba Dioum: ‘We will conserve only what we love, and love only what we understand.’
The diversity of elasmobranch species in West Africa has been poorly studied, especially in the Banc d’Arguin, a large shallow bay in northern Mauritania, which became the Parc National du Banc d’Arguin in 1976 and is the largest marine protected area in West Africa. Most research in the area has focused on its migratory and local bird populations, for which the Banc d’Arguin is an important habitat. It has also been described as a shark sanctuary, but targeted elasmobranch fisheries, both artisanal and commercial, existed in the region before the establishment in 2000 of a law that granted exclusive fishing rights to the indigenous Imraguen fisher community to protect and preserve the park’s natural resources. When populations continued to decrease, however, fishing for sharks and rays was banned in a joint effort by park management and the Imraguen to protect these resources. Houndsharks and elasmobranchs caught as bycatch were excluded from the ban. Nevertheless, elasmobranchs still make up between 35% and 50% of landings from the Imraguen fisheries sector. In addition, as is often the case in developing countries, few species are reported to species level, which makes it difficult to estimate with any accuracy species diversity and abundance in catches. The Parc National du Banc d’Arguin is home to a large number of threatened species and, according to a recent study, as many as two-thirds of its overall species are threatened with extinction. Some rare species have reportedly not been sighted or landed in several years, even decades, and are believed to be regionally extinct. Recent findings also suggest the presence of new, undescribed species and the possible existence of cryptic lineages, as well as a range extension for species previously unconfirmed from the area.
To combine scientific research and local capacity to:
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.