Cayman’s visitors play a hands-on role in Caribbean shark research.
Spearheaded by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the Great Shark Race starts when the animals are tagged during fishing tournaments and continues for six months. Corporate and individual sponsors help fund the $2,500 satellite tags, which send out signals in real time, enabling researchers to track the sharks’ migratory patterns. The shark that travels the most miles wins the race. Part of the fun is that everyone can follow the sharks’ movements on the foundation’s tracking website as they roam around various Caribbean islands and the Atlantic. The shark tracking website has had more than 500,000 visitors.
Compared to other marine species, very little shark research has been done, primarily because they are so inaccessible. But in recent years, Cayman has become a hub for tagging these mysterious creatures. The Department of Environment, Marine Conservation International and the Ocean Foundation have been on the front lines of shark tagging and research.
During fishing tournaments, the Ocean Foundation offers fishermen $1,000 for each animal caught, tagged and released. This reward has changed public attitudes about sharks, says Guy Harvey.
“In the past, if they were in a tournament and they were catching a mahi-mahi or a wahoo, and an oceanic white tip shows up, he wants to take your fish away,” says Harvey. “But now they immediately see the value of a living shark.”
In Cayman, the foundation has focused its tagging efforts on tiger sharks and oceanic white tips, which are very nomadic. This year their goal is to tag 30 sharks.
Sharks Keep Reefs Healthy
The Department of Environment and the Marine Conservation International use acoustic tags for their research on Caribbean reef, lemon and black tip sharks, which tend to be more residential. Each tag sends its signal to receivers, which are set in a ring around each of the three Cayman Islands near the reefs. The data is then collected from the receivers.
To give people an opportunity to get involved in part of its research efforts, Dr. Mauvis Gore of Marine Conservation International says they have recently launched an exciting new project called the Citizen Science Program. The Marine Conservation International is asking snorkellers and divers to take photos of marine life they are studying and upload them to their Facebook page, Sustainable Cayman, and Twitter with hashtag #SpotThatCayfish.
With innovative ways of involving people with shark research efforts like the Great Shark Race and Citizen Science Program, Cayman is transforming itself into a model of conservation, not to mention increasing the world’s understanding of sharks.
by Shurna DeCou