Glorimar is gathering baseline information on which sharks and rays are being caught and consumed in Puerto Rico’s fisheries as there is little information on where sharks and rays are found in this region, what their diversity is and how they are fished. Her project is employing molecular tools to help contribute to this much-needed knowledge, while translating findings to the wider Puerto Rican community through education and bringing awareness to shark conservation.
My love for sharks has been stronger than for any other sea creature, despite the fact that my first meeting with such a mighty creature was less than auspicious. My father and his family have always been keen fishers, out of necessity and for sport, and it was this that led to my first encounter with a shark. It was lying on a table, dead, waiting to be chopped into pieces and sold. I marvelled at how such a strong and feared animal could appear so weak and helpless. It looked, quite literally, out of its element. To this day,...
The aim of this project is to study deep-water sharks that are caught in the Mona Passage and document shark populations through genetic and taxonomic identification to better understand their role in the Mona Island ecosystem.
These species are taken as by-catch by local fishermen and used for consumption. As on other Caribbean islands, coastal Puerto Rico depends heavily on local fisheries as a source of income. Consequently, sharks have been fished for consumption without any concern for their conservation. The reality is that no baseline data exist that would allow us to make recommendations to resource management agencies for stricter laws and regulations that protect sharks.
For fisheries data collection and management, the most crucial hurdle to overcome is the correct identification of shark species and a molecular tool could assist in fisheries-independent assessments of shark diversity in Puerto Rico. DNA barcoding has proven to be a powerful tool in supporting conventional morphological taxonomic methods for identifying species and it is ideal when species are difficult to identify. The goal of this project is to document the diversity of sharks in Puerto Rico by applying DNA barcoding to samples of shark obtained from local fishers. To achieve this goal, we collected shark tissue and shark photos from local fishers and used partial sequences of the mitochondrial NADH2 gene to produce the first list of deep-water shark species around Mona Island, which is one of the most important centres for fishing in Puerto Rico. Our collaboration with local fishers began in 2017 with efforts to dispel their distrust and fear of working with academia. We have made substantial progress already and now routinely work with two deep-sea fishers in the region. Our next steps are to create educational workshops about shark identification and conservation and to expand the number of fishers with whom we collaborate. With the help of an expanded network of fishers, we will create a population map of deep-water sharks and record the incidence of different shark species in the by-catch. We will collaborate with Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to design a management strategy that will benefit local stakeholders and artisanal fishers while ensuring the long-term health of Mona Island as a natural marine reserve. Also, to increase the likelihood of success, our educational campaign will collaborate with three departmental organisations. These agencies have committed to help create activities and webinars on shark conservation around the island. The training will focus on how to interact with fishers respectfully so as to develop trusting collaborative relationships.
The goals of this project are:
Achieving the following objectives will lead to reaching these goals:
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.