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:
Anna is collecting genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this species’ population size in South Africa. Using close-kin mark-recapture analysis instead of traditional methods, she hopes to provide an accurate account of South Africa’s white shark population size. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can use genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. This information is needed in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species is balanced against concerns about bather safety, and where sharks are caught in bather protection gear.
Faqih is filling the gaps in the scant knowledge of giant guitarfish in Java’s Karimunjawa National Park marine protected area (MPA). Karimunjawa is located near Northern Java’s main fishing grounds, but evidence of giant guitarfish caught in some of the use-zones of the MPA hints that the park may be a sanctuary for the species. Managing giant guitarfish in Karimunjawa requires species-specific information.
Faqih’s project is a socio-ecological one to help inform management and draws on new information about relative abundance and distribution, historical occurrence and fishing pressures to paint a contemporary picture of the species in the park.
Cindy wants to know if bonnethead sharks in the Eastern Pacific constitute a third, cryptic species. The Bonnethead complex need clarification in all its distribution range, and Panama is a key country to solve this question since we have the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean. By collecting fin clip samples to compare species at the genetic level and collecting specimens to compare how they look (morphology), Cindy hopes to resolve the taxonomy of Sphyrna tiburo vespertina – that is, whether it’s a cryptic third species for bonnetheads in the region. Her information can help update the IUCN Red List for bonnetheads and improve fisheries policies in Latin America where bonnethead sharks are commonly caught.