MCI’s flagship project in the UK is the study of Basking Sharks, the second largest fish species, undertaken along the west coast of Scotland. Work involves regular boat surveys in and between identified hotspots in the Firth of Clyde and Inner Hebrides, to calculate population estimates and study local and long distance movements and behaviour. Research involves use of photo-identification techniques, DNA sampling, and deployment of satellite tags. The latter approach in particular has yielded exciting results with one large individual, tagged off the Isle of Man in collaboration with the MBSW, crossing the Atlantic and releasing the tag off Newfoundland, Canada, and one heading south in mid Atlantic. Although a planktivore, the basking shark is the second largest fish globally. The aim of this series of annual grants from the Save Our Seas Foundation was to gain an understanding of its ecology and behaviour in Scottish and adjacent waters and promote its effective conservation.
The work resulted in several key advances in knowledge of the species:
• Extensive survey work located a number of hotspots in the Inner Hebrides where the species aggregate to surface feed and show pre-courtship behaviour.
• A system was developed for recognising individual sharks from photographs of fins and other distinguishing features allowing the application of mark-recapture models to estimate temporary aggregation size as well as the likely scale of the regional super-population.
• A first international workshop on basking shark biology and conservation (2009) was held in the Isle of Man, in collaboration with the Manx Department of Agriculture Food & Fisheries.
• A public sightings scheme was established, and a basking shark photo-identification website established in collaboration with the UK Shark Trust (www.baskingshark.org).
• Tagging individuals with pop-off satellite tags revealed both that some individual remain in Scotland until months after they may be observed at the surface, while others migrate much further, with two individuals recorded crossing the Atlantic.
• Satellite tags also showed that despite their name the sharks spend less than 10% of their time at the surface, and feed at a range of depths to over 1000 metres.
• Tissue samples were collected from living sharks and the full mitochondrial genome sequenced (in collaboration with Prof. Shivji at Nova Southeastern University) revealing population mixing between oceans.
MCI and Basking Shark Scotland have joined forces to monitor basking shark in the Inner Hebrides.
Mauvis Gore leads a major project determining the abundance and promoting public awareness of previously unstudied populations of whale and dolphins in Pakistan. This work was undertaken through the University of London’s Marine Biological Station, and funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and the Pakistan Government’s Pakistan Wetlands Programme. Local partners in the project were the University of Karachi and the World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan (WWF-P). Mauvis and the team initiated Cetacean Conservation Pakistan, a group of trained scientists, and the Pakistan Whale and Dolphin Society for all interested in Pakistan’s cetaceans. The team worked closely with local fishers in both Balochistan and Sindh.
Work has confirmed that populations of 10 species are present, including notably threatened Hump-backed dolphin along the mouth of the Indus Delta, large populations of spinner dolphin around the edge of the continental shelf, and part of an unusual population of hump-backed whales confined to the northern Indian Ocean.
Work then focused on the status of sharks being fished in very large numbers in Balochistan. These are taken mainly by local fishers for their fins and to a lesser extent their meat. The fins are passed through middlemen to Asian markets for the restaurant trade, leaving Pakistan with a severe reduction in their top predators, which has an impact on the health of the Pakistan seas, the food chain and fishers’ livelihood.
Sustainable Management of Threatened Keystone Predators to enhance Reef Resilience in the Cayman Islands
Thanks to existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), coral reefs in Cayman have fared better than
those in other Caribbean areas. Nevertheless due to climate and other impacts the abundance of
living corals in Cayman is but a third of that originally present. Similarly, while globally the abundance on reefs of top predators, especially sharks, has collapsed, our recent Overseas Territories Environment Programme project showed that in Cayman various sharks, grouper and snapper are still present, but with relative abundances markedly lower than expected. The protection of these apex predators is now considered critical since they play a keystone role in maintaining the balance of trophic cascades, so enhancing reef resilience. Yet our acoustic tagging studies revealed that top predators such as Caribbean reef sharks range over areas considerably larger than any one MPA, strengthening the argument, already developed through a study of algae-coral-herbivore interactions by a sister project (Darwin project: PI Turner), for an extension of existing MPAs. The present project will determine absolute abundance of keystone predators, quantify reproductive parameters, produce and implement Species Action Plans, and implement sustainable management of on-going fisheries. This effort will address the Cayman government’s commitment to “Ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats and species”. Our partners are the Cayman Islands Dept. of Environment, as well as the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences. Our main funding is through a Darwin Plus award and CayBrew’s Whitetip fund.
The project will determine key ecological and behavioural parameters for the management of 5 largest marine predators. These include oceanic-white tip shark and grey snapper considered by IUCN to be vulnerable, and tiger and Caribbean reef sharks considered near-threatened. The species also include tiger grouper as representative of the most important genera of commercial reef fish which appears in decline in Cayman. The resulting information will permit preparation of urgently required Species Action Plans and inform the refinement and enforcement of enhanced fisheries management plans. Data will also contribute to investigation of the mechanisms through these top predators influence the trophic balance and health of reef ecosystems.
Surveying Indian Ocean Sharks & their Habitat
Rupert Ormond and Mauvis Gore have also undertaken a number of projects in Indian Ocean on behalf of the SaveourSeas Foundation and Danah Divers, to participate in studies on shark species around the islands of the Seychelles. A long-term project on Mahe has been studying the Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, which arrive there seasonally to feed on abundant plankton. Satellite tags attached to these have indicated that on leaving Seychelles they migrate widely across the western Indian Ocean. Another study surveyed the abundance of all shark species around the remote atoll of Aldabra, a World Heritage Site. This work revealed abundant Black-tip reef sharks and Lemon sharks, but a dearth of the largest species. In addition preliminary studies were completed on Praslin, La Digue and Bird Island.
In Northern Mozambique, we did a rapid assessment of the coral reef and fish around Vamizi and Metundo Islands with Danah Divers. There were spectacular and varied habitats which was a very welcome as well as exciting find.
We have begun a long-term survey of the coral reef and fish species and their abundance around D'Arros Island.
Conservation of the Marine Environment of Makkah Province, Saudi Arabia
Habit The province of Makkah extends over the central third of the Saudi Arabian coast of the Red Sea, an area incorporating many of what were, until recently, the best developed coral reefs within the region. Over the last two to three decades there has been a marked decline in the condition of many of these reefs, principally as a result of unregulated coastal development north and south of Jeddah, the discharge of mostly untreated sewage and widespread overfishing, exacerbated by climate change related coral bleaching. This decline has continued in part because there are as yet few Marine Protected Areas operational within the Saudi Red Sea, and none within Makkah province.
To combat this situation, Rupert Ormond is leading a three part project. The first part is researching the exact cause of the death of corals along the Jeddah coastline. Coral fragments have been transplanted between a series of impacted and control sites and the causes of differences in growth and mortality rates investigated.
Secondly, the project involves surveying reefs and associated habitats through Makkah Province to identify good locations for possible new Marine Protected Areas. During the 1980s, an MCI director (Ormond) led a survey of the entire Saudi Red Sea coast. The present project will include re-appraisal of the areas that were assessed as most important for conservation at that time.
Thirdly, the project comprises an integrated public awareness and environmental education programme, directed at informing both government and the general public of the value of coral reefs and their dependent, renewable resources. In particular a series of environmental workshops are being held amongst key government departments and agencies.
Marine Conservation International does take on a limited number of students, mostly at the MSc and PhD level, and volunteers to assist with its project work. If you would like to enquire about the possibility of participating in any of our ongoing projects, please email MCI explaining why you believe the project may be of special interest to you and attaching a c.v. focusing on your marine and biological experience or interests.
Marine Conservation International: 5 Lang Rigg Unit 6, South Queensferry, EH30 9WN, UK Tel:+44 (0)131 319 1042 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org