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Great excitement when Johanna saw this young of the year Galeocerdo cuvier (tiger shark) on one of our BRUVS this week in Cayman!
First calm day to begin surveying Cayman's sharks and other large marine predators. Johanna and Alain set as part of the team to set the BRUVS (camera traps) and scientific long lines on Grand Cayman.
The weather has been pretty rough but we are fishing for Lutjanus griseus (grey or lagoon) and L. analis (mutton snapper) as part of the Cayman Islands Large Marine Predator Project. Helen is having a look at the otoliths she collected from the first mutton snapper caught for the season.
The sharks were late in gathering this year off the Isle of Coll where we base our research. Our student Lotte Abels worked with our partners, Basking Shark Scotland, in observing the sharks’ behaviour under different scenarios – all within the SNH guidelines for marine wildlife in Scotland. Some exciting data are now being analysed and we expect to find some new interpretation of the basking sharks’ behavioural ecology.
We arrived at the huge conference centre and tackled the programme of multiple sessions to see what was feasible to attend. Mauvis helped Rupert run the International Society for Reef Studies, which was a lot of fun meeting a lot of friends, colleagues and making new acquaintances in the coral reef world. The talks covered so many topics on coral reefs and we know so much more now with new techniques and many more colleagues focusing on coral reefs. However, climate change is the main problem in tropical coral reef existence. Mind you, BREXIT was declared along with this message, making life very depressing at the time.
We had a really successful field season in Cayman with our partners at Cayman’s Department of Environment (DoE) and our student Johanna Kohler and intern Pete Davies on the team. Johanna concentrated on sharks and our Citizen Science programme while Pete focused on the snapper population. We deployed camera traps (BRUVS or baited underwater video stations) and set scientific long lines around Grand and Little Cayman to monitor shark and predatory fish species. The acoustic tagging went very well for both sharks and snappers and we hit a veritable motorway underwater for the sharks on Little Cayman and grey snappers on Grand Cayman. Photo-identification is an important part of estimating the shark populations and we continue to build our catalogue of individual sharks. Our partners at GHOC have tagged more tiger and oceanic whitetip sharks and their migration patterns are becoming clearer as they roam the Caribbean and beyond.
From the data that we began collecting in 2009, we have drafted the Species Action Plans for eight Cayman shark and snapper species, along with a Biodiversity Action Plan for the sharks. Our student Maria Maily was helpful in the first drafts and our DoE partners will be taking these forward for public consultation.
We have a much better idea of the health of the grey and mutton snapper populations with a lot of fishing by Pete and our former student Justin Lewis. Working with our fisher network, we have discussed management options for the snapper, based on our results and the fishers’ knowledge and suggestions.
An important part of the project is raising awareness, public education and communication about issues related to sharks and snapper fishing. We launched the #SpotThatCayFish programme with Brita Gill’s eye-catching designed postcard and Johanna distributed these to all the hotels and dive companies on Grand and Little Cayman. Johanna has also recruited divers to our Shark Logger programme, resulting in our Caribbean reef shark with tag DoE143 being reported as re-sighted. Shark Loggers understand that it is key to working out population numbers to know when a shark has not been seen as well as when they are observed.
To celebrate the first year of shark protection in Cayman, we held SharKY Fest which was hugely fun – after the months of organisation and planning lead by Johanna! She did an amazing job and what a success it was. We had several short talks about sharks and their conservation, what we have been working on and our results, what the new law protecting sharks means, diving with sharks and their natural attractiveness. There were wonderful posters displayed from the school poster competition on Cayman sharks – professional graphic designer watch out! We had captivating photos by Ellen Culyaerts, face painting and shark crafts, there were shark themed drinks with Vivo’s delicious sliders. The music by Trio Vivo and the Swanky Kitchen Band had everyone dancing (see FB!).
As part of continuation of the work in the future for Cayman, we are collaborating with Tom Sparke at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in deploying BRUVS to monitor sharks and predatory fish species.
And so to the next field season, we can’t wait! Johanna, Rupert and I will be joined by Helen Delgado-Nordmann, who will be focusing on the snappers.
We have been out on the boat every day that the weather allowed and the hard work has paid off for our Darwin Plus project with the Cayman Islands Dept. of Environment (DoE). We had a very slow start in catching sharks, although we had a number of our camera traps set around Little Cayman. By yesterday, we had caught 9 Caribbean reef (Carcharhinus perezi) sharks, a blacktip (C. limbatus) and 7 nurse (Ginglymostoma cirratum) as well as 2 southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana). The team is great, with Johanna Kohler and Pete Davies from MCI and Keith Neale as DoE skipper, and we are really excited. Now we want to know where the sharks are going as they have acoustic tags and they should pass the array of receivers that we have around the three Cayman Islands.
Indian Ocean Surveys, February-April 2016
We had another good season in the Amirantes this year. We went a little later this year to try and catch better weather and this worked. We were able to deploy our camera traps in all of the study sites, even with some tropical downpours and storms in between. We have almost finished analysing the videos and can begin the exciting part of working out what the shark populations are doing this year in comparison over time. Shark conservation is the aim for healthy reefs, but we are also focusing on the predatory snappers and wily groupers as well. We have seen some wonderful behaviour by the sharks and groupers, just fascinating!
We had another good season in the Amirantes this year. We went a little later this year to try and catch better weather and this worked. We were able to deploy our camera traps in all of the study sites, even with some tropical downpours and storms in between.
We have almost finished analysing the videos and can begin the exciting part of working out what the shark populations are doing this year in comparison over time. Shark conservation is the aim for healthy reefs, but we are also focusing on the predatory snappers and wily groupers as well. We have seen some wonderful behaviour by the sharks and groupers, just fascinating!
Working with a British Council grant, Mauvis went out as part of the Heriot-Watt University team with James Thorburn and Amie Williams, to work with colleagues from Planeta Oceanó and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) to assess the level of artisanal fisheries for shark and rays in northern Peru. The teams met up in Lima and gave talks at a workshop run by Kerstin Forsberg, who heads Planeta Oceanó. We then flew over to Tumbes and then made our way to Zorritos.
We surveyed the landing site near Zorritos and saw large numbers of mobula and scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygnaea) were landed and sold. They appeared to be immature, which was a particular concern.
After a fair amount of organisation, we managed to go out with fishers to see what the catch included. The boat was not as planned but James, Mauvis and Maria (UNMSM student) squeezed in with two fishers and headed out. The drift net catch was overwhelmingly juvenile scalloped hammerheads and we took samples of the dead sharks.
We took two of the sharks back to share field and lab techniques we use with IMARPE, the Peruvian fisheries agency, and gave them DNA samples for their work on population genetics.
While the news of the huge numbers of elasmobranchs being caught was not good, the collaboration between our institutes and groups has been really exciting. The outlook is good as legislation (supported by work done by Planeta Oceanó) was passed during our visit to protect sharks.
Mauvis arrived on Little Cayman about a week ago now with two great new people on the team, Johanna the Shark and Pete the Snapper. Rupert arrived a few days ago, having returned from Jeddah where he is running a coral restoration programme at King Abdul Azziz University.
It is always such a pleasure to land at the Edward Bodden Airfield (note, not airport), which is a long field. Little Cayman is lovely, quiet and spectacularly beautiful. We are here to survey for sharks, snappers and groupers as part of the Darwin Initiative grant with the Department of Environment. The DoE house is chock a block with us, gear and food for most of the month in a small but comfortable space. Most of the larger gear and equipment is in a hurricane damaged building adjacent, along with a freezer full of our bait. The rest of the bait is being looked after very kindly by the Hungry Iguana and Southern Cross. The DoE boat is so full of camera trap and long line gear that we have difficulty finding a place to stand much less work. With a bit of juggling, we have ourselves well organised and running smoothly.
Less smooth is the weather, which is a force unto itself. Three weather sites that we use on the internet have all agreed on what the forecast would be. That in itself is amazing, but bore no relationship to what has been happening. So those flat calm days the weather sites promised were actually blowing hard, and the clear skies bucketed on us. We have been able to deploy the camera traps, it is the long lines that need good weather to work on any sharks caught.
The conditions finally came together yesterday on the south-west of Little Cayman, where after four hours, we caught a lovely male blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) that we named Castro after the fisher who brought his good luck with him. Johanna was in love with the shark, hard to take her gaze off the first Cayman shark in her hands (literally). Pete’s shark belt buckle seemed to do the trick! Interestingly, we had a blacktip shark on our camera trap in this area a few days ago.