Known as the shark capital of the world, The Bahamas hosts a great diversity and an abundance of sharks in its waters. To protect these healthy populations, in 2011 the nation declared its waters – more than 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 square miles) of ocean – a shark sanctuary, in which commercial shark fishing is prohibited and a recreational catch-and-release programme has been introduced.
I have been using personal drones, specifically the DJI series quadcopter, as a non-invasive method of monitoring coastal shark species. Over the past month, the drone has drawn some attention at my monitoring locations on Abaco Island and I have been approached by several people who are curious about why I am filming the surface of the water. Fairly quickly, my ‘monitor field days’ have transformed into ‘shark outreach days’, which I have spent talking with those interested about the uses of drones and getting their opinions about sharks and, importantly, their thoughts about the new shark ban.
As an ecologist, I am enthusiastic about the protection of shark species, especially those such as lemon, tiger and bull sharks that are known to be threatened or endangered in other parts of the world. In a country that makes millions of dollars a year in the shark diving industry through shark feeds, videography and snorkelling, I assumed that everyone would be as enthusiastic as I am about the latest protection status given to sharks. But, after a month of interviews and conversations with local fishermen, divers, educators and visitors, I have discovered that their feelings are rather complicated. People seem to ‘love sharks’ but feel that there are ‘way too many here’, even though they recognise that ‘sharks are crucial for the ecosystem and need protection’.
Here is a short video featuring the fishermen, surfers and shark enthusiasts I have had the pleasure to talk with over this past month.