They might be the ocean’s top predators, but over-fishing and under-appreciation have diminished shark populations to such an extent that it threatens to upset the balance of an already fragile marine environment.
“The only way to make a difference is to involve everyone. When people understand the value of these species, they will naturally become partners in our conservation efforts,” said Cayman Islands Department of Environment Deputy Director Tim Austin.
According to surveys, less than 10 per cent of the world’s shark populations remain and the decline is continuing.
“This is extremely worrying as sharks are key components of marine biodiversity,” said scientist Mauvis Gore, who is part of a research team that is collecting data on local shark species, populations and the pressures they face.
Scientists are also gathering data on dolphins and whales to help protect this often undervalued resource in local waters.
“Our only hope to save the ocean’s iconic species is to gather information to develop conservation plans that will safeguard their future,” Mr. Gore said. “This in turn could translate into sustainable economic benefits for local tour operators, dive companies and sports fisherman.”
Mr. Gore is part of an international team from Marine Conservation International and leads the project funded by the UK’s Overseas Territory Environment Programme and the Save Our Seas Foundation.
Together with Cayman Islands DOE staff they are in the second year of the extensive survey that involves surveying for and tagging sharks and working with fishermen, dive operators and boat owners in gathering local knowledge on sharks, whales and dolphins.
The research project will run until April 2012.
Mr. Austin also encourages residents to “help in our understanding of Cayman’s seas” by reporting any shark, whale or dolphin sightings to the DOE at [email protected] or 949.8469.
Marine Conservation International is a partnership formed by marine scientists to enable them to pursue projects with conservation objectives in the most effective way.
The directors are Rupert Ormond, previously director of the University of London‘s Marine Biological Station, and Mr. Gore, a senior research fellow at the Millport Marine Station, and previously director of Conservation with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Both directors have experience in marine biological research and conservation projects stretching back over nearly 40 years and have adjunct professorships at Heriot-Watt University.
Save Our Seas Foundation was founded in 2003 as a nonprofit organisation with offices in Geneva, Jeddah, Dubai, Miami, Cape Town and Edinburgh.
It undertakes and supports conservation and research projects concerned with endangered marine species and habitats — notably sharks, marine turtles and coral reefs.
It operates two shark centres for educating and research, one in Kalk Bay near Cape Town and the other in Fort Lauderdale.
Shark species which are the subject of research projects include great white shark, common tiger shark, bull shark, basking sharks, silky shark, blue shark, whale shark and grey reef shark, and work on cetaceans ranging in size from the blue whale to the dolphin is also being supported.
Conservation, awareness, research and education are the four principals at the heart of the foundations mission. For more information, go to www.saveourseas.com