A Field Season of Basking Shark Research in the Sea of Hebrides 2019

This summer, a team from the University of Exeter have been on field work in the Inner Hebrides tracking and filming basking sharks! Read on to find out why…

Words by Owen Exeter, Christopher Kerry and Jessica Rudd.

Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish and one of the UK’s most iconic marine species. Understanding the lives of these endangered fish is key to their conservation. Since 2012, researchers from the University of Exeter led by Dr Matthew Witt and Dr Lucy Hawkes in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage’s Dr Suzanne Henderson have been working in the Sea of Hebrides to understand how and why sharks use these coastal waters. This year the team are applying a variety of technologies to investigate the secret life of basking sharks below the surface.

Left: Dr Suzanne Henderson, Dr Lucy Hawkes and Dr Matthew Witt. Right: Image taken by REMUS.

Previously, most of our knowledge of basking shark spatial ecology and behaviour has relied on surface observations limited by daylight and weather conditions. With the recent advances of tracking technologies, we have gained unprecedented insight into their UK distribution, diving behaviour, long distance migration and inter-annual site fidelity. Satellite telemetry data acquired by the Exeter team have confirmed the waters off the Isles of Coll and Tiree as spatially important to the species (Doherty et al. 2017). These findings have directly informed conservation management with the proposed Sea of the Hebrides MPA currently under consultation.

Recently the team’s research has shifted to exploring whether the region has further significance to the species. Little is known about basking shark reproductive behaviour, fine-scale movement or habitat preference. 2017 saw the successful deployment of multichannel tags recording behaviour at the sub-second level (Rudd et al. in prep) and in 2018, custom made cameras designed by MR ROV started elucidating some of these questions. This year we were joined by a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) REMUS, with further towed cameras to deploy and a sonar scanner to attempt to shed further light on the rarely seen secret life of basking sharks.

Field site: Isles of Coll and Tiree, Inner Hebrides, Scotland.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute REMUS

REMUS is an AUV, a two-meter-long submersible vehicle that is designed to record underwater footage without manual controls from the surface. This allowed us to conduct long deployments at distances of over 2km from our control boat. Developed by Amy Kukuyla and her team at WHOI, REMUS has previously been deployed to film white sharks, bull sharks and leatherback turtles at depth.

As REMUS relies upon a tracking beacon tag being attached to the sharks half our team set off early from Tobermory harbour to locate and deploy tags aboard vessel Bold Ranger. The control team, including WHOI staff, followed on Etive Explorer. We successfully deployed beacons on multiple sharks across several days. Once tagged, we launched REMUS which followed the sharks at predetermined distances for up to four hours each mission. REMUS has 5 frontal cameras with an optional rear camera allowing near 360 views to be captured and up to 24 hours of footage generated per mission. Members of the team are currently stitching these different camera views together for each mission to allow further processing and analysis of the footage.

Left: REMUS. Right: MR ROV towed camera.

Towed camera deployment

Last summer, the towed cameras revealed new and exciting footage, including the very first shark aggregation observed on the seabed. While basking sharks may aggregate at the surface to feed, it remains unclear why they may do so at depth. Wanting to build upon these initial findings and hope to uncover more novel behaviour, this year we set out to re-deploy three cameras for a longer duration. These tags encase a temperature-depth recorder tracking the shark’s movement throughout the water column while filming it with a rear and front facing camera attached just below the dorsal fin by a 1.5 m tether. A vital component to the tag package is the Programmed Time Release which enables us to set the time at which we wish the camera to pop off the shark after a desired period and an integrated satellite tag, allowing us to track the camera remotely once its antennae breaks the surface by relaying its position every hour.

Footage acquired from 2018 MR ROV towed cameras.

This season the team was again successful in deploying all three camera tags. Upon release we deployed a range of tech to help us successfully hone into the position of the cameras. Once arrived at its last known coordinates, we used a goniometer which gave an idea of the bearing of the camera in relation to the boat. Within a certain range a handheld VHF radio (above the surface) as well as a VEMCO acoustic pinger (underwater) provide extra confidence in the directionality and distance to our prized tags.

While two of the sharks remained close to Coll, the third shark swum towards the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, nearly 150km north of it’s initial attachment. After a stroke of luck, a skipper and boat were found to help locate the last tag, known as Mr ROV Green, but required us to leave Mull, cross the mainland and drive across Skye before being picked up by a rib to find the camera. With the final mission successfully completed and all three camera tags found, now comes the exciting part of reviewing footage from both the cameras and REMUS to discover what new behaviours may have been recorded, along with answering biologically important questions such as estimating feeding rates and tail beat frequencies, as well as possible interactions with other basking sharks.

Finally, we would like to say a big thank you to Matt, Lucy and Suz for their knowledge and support during this field season. Interacting with a range of field technologies and seeing our data feed directly into policy and management is an invaluable experience for early career researchers. This work wouldn’t be possible without their hard work and dedication. We would also like to extend our thanks to Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Scottish Natural Heritage for their support of the project.

If you would like to updates on the basking shark project and our team’s other research please follow via twitter: Owen @OExeter,  Chris @chriskerry1989  and Jess @jlrudd.

The team. Clockwise from top left: Dr Lucy Hawkes, Dr Matt Witt, Owen Exeter, Chris Kerry and Jessica Rudd

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Shark Awareness Day: Plastic pollution – problematic for sharks and rays.

For Shark Awareness Day 2019 we have been chatting to a few of our elasmobranch (that’s sharks, skates and rays) researchers here the the University of Exeter! In this blog we talk to Kristian Parton one of our Masters by Research students based at our Penryn Campus. He has recently published his first research paper giving a global overview of shark and ray entanglement. Below he tells us about his research and what he has found.

Words by Kristian Parton, Masters by Research Student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Numerous shark populations around the world are under-threat from a variety human impacts, the most notable of these being overexploitation and bycatch. Plastic pollution and marine debris is also an ever-growing threat to species inhabiting the marine environment, having direct impacts on fish, sea turtles and marine mammals. There is little existing scientific knowledge on the impacts of marine debris on shark and ray species. Over the last year, I led a team of researchers from the University of Exeter seeking to investigate the impacts of anthropogenic (human-made) marine debris on elasmobranch populations across the globe. Our literature review was published this week in Endangered Species Research, in which we used novel data collection from social media site “Twitter”, as well as pre-existing data in the scientific literature. We discovered that the threat of marine debris to sharks and rays is likely underreported and is without doubt of clear animal welfare concern, although it is unlikely to have wide-ranging detrimental population level effects.

We managed to identify that “ghost fishing gear” was the category of marine debris responsible for entangling the majority of elasmobranchs. Ghost fishing gear is fishing equipment that has been discarded or lost at sea, and is distributed by ocean currents and winds. Ghost gear indiscriminately catches and kills a host of marine life, including sharks and rays.  We also discovered the majority of entangled individuals were found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, although recommend that more research should also be conducted in the Indian ocean – a known hotspot for elasmobranch biodiversity. In the scientific literature the most common entangled species were lesser spotted dogfish and spiny dogfish, two species regularly found off the coast of Cornwall. We highlight that sharks and rays who have specific habitat niches (e.g. those that inhabit the seafloor or species that occupy open ocean habitats), as well as those who display migratory movements may be at higher risk of entanglement in marine debris.

This Short-fin Mako Shark has been entangled in fishing rope which has caused scoliosis (deformation) of its spine. Image by Daniel Cartamil

By using a novel method of data collection via social media site “Twitter”, we were able to identify several different species of shark and ray that were a victim of entanglement, but weren’t found as entangled in the scientific literature. This included whale sharks, basking sharks and oceanic white-tip sharks. Twitter also highlighted additional entanglements hotspots that again weren’t displayed in the scientific literature.

Although not one of the major threats to sharks and rays, entanglement in marine debris still presents a risk to elasmobranchs, particularly from an animal welfare perspective. With further research on the topic, it could be revealed that this is occurring at far higher levels than we have reported. Social media has now become integrated into today’s society, so using it in a positive way to help reveal additional entanglement reports is a real bonus. With millions of users, the global reach of social media is unprecedented and scientists could now start to tap into the virtual databases that exist on the web.

From this research, we have set up an online entanglement report form in collaboration with the Shark Trust. This will allow citizen scientists across the globe to submit their shark and ray entanglement sightings, and will significantly help scientist further quantify this risk to ever declining elasmobranch populations.

Follow Kris on Twitter.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Shark Awareness Day: Eye of the Tiger – Conducting Landing Surveys in Sri Lanka

For Shark Awareness Day 2019 we have been to talking to some of our elasmobranch (that’s sharks, skates and rays) researchers! Here, University of Exeter PhD student Claire Collins tells us about her research in Sri Lanka working to understand the shark fishery there so we can better manage them.

Tiger shark awaiting sale by shark traders in the early morning

Words by Claire Collins, University of Exeter PhD student.

I am 2nd year PhD student studying the socio-economic context of pelagic fisheries in Sri Lanka and India, specifically distant water vessels that target sharks (along with other large pelagics). As part of my research I will study the socio-economic value chains associated with sharks, the spatial movements of vessels and the perceptions of fishers with regards to national and international conservation regulations. To do this I will use a variety of methods including landing surveys, focus groups, household surveys and observational data. It is hoped that at the end of the project we can understand more about what motivates fishers to target sharks in distant water areas and how policy and management can be improved to benefit fishers’ livelihoods and shark populations.

Sharks are threatened globally by both targeted fisheries and through accidental capture in other large pelagic fisheries. Understanding the impact of anthropogenic activities is important and relies on accurate landings and discards data. However, for many fisheries globally the status of sharks as bycatch, and the difficulties in identifying them to a species-level means that we don’t have a clear idea of levels of fishing. The Indian Ocean has been identified as an area where populations of sharks are particularly poorly understood. As part of my PhD project I will be focusing on collecting data on landings and discards of sharks, as well as fishers perceptions of their livelihoods as shark fishers and how management and regulations effects them. One way to collect this data is through landing surveys in markets. These surveys are dual purpose for us, as we are able to collect landings data (including information on price and who is buying them) and we also get to speak to people whose job it is to understand shark movements and populations; the fishers!

Fishers with sharks caught incidentally during fishing for large pelagics such as Tuna and Billfish

Market surveys are not for the faint-hearted as they are frantic, start incredibly early (3AM at one of our sites) and the resulting smell means researchers are often unsuitable for travelling on public transport/sitting in cafes afterwards! Upon arriving at the markets researchers familiarise themselves with fishers and traders and look out for the first landings of the day. In order to understand value chains associated with sharks the team collect weight and price information for each species of shark landed that day, along with the details of which individuals are selling and buying them. Sales are conducted quickly and sharks often disappear seconds after being offloaded, therefore researchers need to be quick and rely on their good relationships with traders and buyers. Within Sri Lanka shark fisheries are considered zero wastage, therefore the team has to collect price and weight data for the sales of meat, fins, liver, teeth/jaws and skin as well as whole sharks.

Meat and fins are separated for sale on the market side.

Our research team also conduct questionnaires with fishers that are landing to the markets on the subject of their fishing behaviours, attitudes towards sharks and the economics of their recent trip. These surveys are conducted by researchers with the captains of the vessels, often in the wheel-house, and tablets are used to help speed up recording and analysis. By combining data from both types of surveys, as well as interviews with other individuals such as shark traders, we can map out socio-economic reliance on shark resources. This will help us to understand likely impacts of changes in management and policy interventions on a national and international level. It could also offer policy-makers an insight into how fishers see their industry and livelihoods and what is important to them for the future.

Fishers are regularly gone for trips of over 2 months

All images taken by the author. This work is supported by the Bertarelli Foundation as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science and is conducted in partnership with the Zoological Society of London.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Happy #SeaTurtleWeek! Check out these turtle-y awesome Sea Turtle researchers!

As we segway from #WorldOceansDay into #SeaTurtleWeek we though we would share with you all an insight into just some of the research being carried out by @ExeterMarine at the Univeristy of Exeter!

Below, members of the Marine Turtle Research Group led by Profs Annette Broderick and Brendan Godley share their research and why they enjoy working with these ancient animals.

Ceren Barlas, PhD student 

Hello! I am a Ph.D. Biological Sciences student in the Marine Turtle Research Group at the University of Exeter, supervised by Brendan Godley and Annette Broderick. My research focuses on the marine plastic pollution in the Mediterranean and how it affects the physical and biological environment. The recent experiments at Alagadi beach investigated the effect of macroplastic contamination on the beach, where we compared the effects of different contamination levels and different plastic types on sand temperature. This type of contamination and resulting effects are important for sea turtles, as a change in sand temperature can change the sex ratios of the hatchlings and affect the reproductive success of future generations.

Find out more about the turtle conservation project at Alagadi Beach here.

 

Dr Ana Nuno, Research Fellow

How can we better protect sea turtle populations worldwide? We need to understand the root causes of problems affecting them… and that often means understanding how people use them (e.g. diet and culture). My research combines information about sea turtles and people so that we can design robust conservation programmes. For example, my research explored sea turtle farming as a way of promoting sustainable use of turtles in the Caymans Islands and assessed drivers of the illegal trade of marine turtle products in Cape Verde. There are so many different ways people value sea turtles… it’s crucial understanding these different perspectives so that we can find ways forward!

Find out more about Ana and her work here, and follow her on Twitter.

Research paper exploring the drivers and deterrents of illegal turtle harvesting.

 

 

Julia Haywood, PhD Student

I am a marine spatial ecologist working on female loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean Sea. Using satellite telemetry, stable isotope analysis, and satellite remote sensed data I aim to unravel the mystery of what they get up to when they aren’t nesting. Where do they go, how do they find their way there, what is so special about that place, and how do human activities affect them?

Follow Julia on twitter!

 

 

Dr Rita Patricio, Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Patricio is a Postdoctoral researcher at MARE-ISPA, Instituto Universitário, Portugal and University of Exeter, UK.

I research the green turtle connectivity along the West African coast and the Atlantic, using satellite telemetry, to assess their migratory routes, and genetic analysis, to investigate their origins. Other aspects we are also looking into include climate change impacts on the greatest green turtle population in Africa, habitat selection, and status of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle in the Bijagós Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau.

I work with an amazing team of students, researchers, national technicians and community members. Our work contributes to improve sea turtle protection, for example informing the zonation of MPAs, or suggesting regulations at priority sites, it helps to raise awareness, through the participation of local communities in conservation work, and it builds the capacity of national teams involved on research. Plus, disseminating our research results and activities boosts visibility enhancing funding opportunities for conservation.

It is fascinating to work so close to these charismatic and ancient-like creatures. Marine turtles are very symbolic to many coastal African communities, representing abundance, power, and fertility. Understanding local cultures and working together for the conservation of marine turtles for the coming generations it is most fulfilling.

Follow Rita on Twitter and find out more about the project by following the links below.

Sea Turtles in Guinea Bissau

Atlantic Migrants Marine Research Group  

 

 

Casper van de Geer, PhD student

I have recently started my PhD, where I will be looking into the ecology and conservation of marine turtles in Kenya. The fieldwork and data collection has been carried by the team at Local Ocean Conservation (LOC), founded in 1997 and based in Watamu, and is ongoing. Before starting my PhD I was the manager at LOC for four years.
I will be investigating turtle nesting trends and incubation temperatures, as well data collected through the LOC’s Bycatch Release Programme. The Bycatch Release Program aims to minimize mortality of turtles resulting from interactions with the artisanal fishing sector, which has been recognized as one of the major threats to marine megafauna in the Western Indian Ocean region. I will also be carrying out an assessment of this program to see if it should and could be replicated elsewhere.

There is still much we do not know about turtles in Kenya or indeed the wider Western Indian Ocean, so I’m excited that my research will be able fill some of these knowledge gaps and contribute towards effective conservation strategies for these incredible marine reptiles. These contributions will also demonstrate how important local grassroots conservation efforts, like those of Local Ocean Conservation, can be if they are carried out properly and consistently.

Check out Casper and Local Ocean Conservation on Twitter!

 

Dr Liliana Poggio-Colman, Postdoctoral Researcher

I’m a postdoc researcher working with the ecology and conservation of a small and critically endangered leatherback turtle population nesting in Espírito Santo, Brazil. We work together with @ProjetoTAMAR in Brazil to monitor them and investigate their nesting ecology, population trends, habitat use and threats. I love being able to work with such magnificent creatures.

Find Lili on Twitter and take a look at this video for more information on the project!

 

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

#WorldOceansDay – gender and the oceans

This #WorldOceansDay we want to celebrate our academics who are working on understanding gender roles and how this impacts both the individual and society in coastal communities. In this post we introduce you to four researchers who are all working on different aspects of the influence gender has on roles, livelihoods and wellbeing within coastal communities.

 

Dr Tomas Chaigneau

Lecturer in Social Sciences for our Environment at the University of Exeter, Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) in Cornwall.

I am a social scientist who studies the relationship between the natural environment and peoples’ wellbeing. This involves understanding how individuals derive wellbeing from the coast but also how their actions can impact their adjacent environment. Through an interdisciplinary approach, I explore how conservation and natural resource management measures are contributing to wellbeing and poverty alleviation. In particular, the disaggregated and gendered nature of this work uncovers important trade-offs between the needs and wants of different individuals within communities and environmental management. This work seeks to find ways to reconcile these whilst minimising negative consequences for current and future generations.

You can find out more about Tomas’ research here

http://www.espa-spaces.org/

https://www.blue-communities.org/Home

https://www.navigating-complexity.com/home

Follow him on Twitter: @Tomas_Chaigneau

 

Dr Madeleine Gustavsson

Research Fellow at the Univeristy of ExeterMedical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

My research focuses on fishing families and communities – particularly concentrating on the small-scale fishing sector. I hold an ESRC New Investigator research grant titled: “Exploring the changing role(s), identities and wellbeing of women in small-scale fishing families.” The study focuses on how women in both the UK and Newfoundland, Canada, are sustaining small-scale fishing families. The project’s main goal is to investigate the role of women in responding to financial pressures in the fishing sector and to understand what this means to these women in terms of identity and wellbeing. 

We’ll be collecting data by interviewing people and listening to their experiences. This kind of research is called a qualitative study and our participants are the experts. We listen to their voices so we can include their knowledge in our research. We will talk to women about their experiences in the forefront of fishing businesses, and also learn about their roles in areas related to fishing—such as working in fish processing, markets, and restaurants

In the coming year we will conduct semi-structured interviews with policy makers and government representatives in the UK. We will explore how women can be supported by future fishing policies, particularly those following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

A further goal of the project is to establish a UK-wide network for women in fishing families. The Women in Fishing Network will help women to connect with each other, share experiences, and offer support.

More information is available here.

You can find out more about Madeleine on the Exeter website or on google scholar.

Follow her on Twitter: @mcgustavsson

Timur Jack-Kadioglu

PhD researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

My research, part of the UKRI GCRF Blue Communities Programme, is focused on how coastal communities in Palawan, the Philippines, perceive and experience livelihoods, and how these are linked with people’s wellbeing. In particular I am exploring how these are shaped by people’s gender, age, ethnicity, and class background.

Through empirical research in a municipality undergoing rapid change, I am seeking to explore how government and NGO narratives compare and contrast with the perceptions and experiences of different community members, and whether there are barriers or facilitators that influence people’s livelihood choice, in particular the most marginalised community members.

You can find Timur online or on Twitter here: @TimurJK

 

Dr Rebecca Short

Research Associate at the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Heath (ECEHH) in Cornwall.

Coming from a marine biology background I have developed an interest in how people and the oceans interact, particularly the balances between the benefits we derive and the impacts we have on the oceans. Recently this has focused on the role women play in the fisheries sector; how we can improve gender equity and generate win-wins for coastal communities. My PhD focused on the use of mosquito nets as fishing gear, an activity of underappreciated importance to women in developing nations which represents both and ecological risk and a socioeconomic opportunity. I am now additionally researching broadly across topics linking human health and the oceans with the European centre for Environment and Human Health SOPHIE project where we aim to set an agenda for the EU that secures the health services we critically rely on from the oceans. 

As I continue my research, both further in to mosquito net fisheries elsewhere and also more generally in to links between the oceans and human health with the SOPHIE project at ECEHH, I know that gender will be a key focus for me. Importantly I also believe it should be a key focus in all research of this kind; whilst I may seem obvious to us now that leaving out half of the picture leads to terrible policies and results we have several centuries of half-baked research to backfill with the full picture!

You can find out more about Rebecca’s research here, and follow her on Twitter, @BeccaEShort

 

It’s #WorldOceansDay! A focus on gender and fisheries in Mozambique

This #World oceans Day, Dr Rebecca Short from the University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) talks to us about her PhD research focusing on gender roles in coastal fishing communities in Mozambique.

Words by Dr Rebecca Short, Research Associate, ECEHH, University of Exeter

I did not know that the women of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique would be so central to my PhD research when I began investigating the coastal fishing communities of this remote part of the country. I was there to take a first look at an issue that has been in the background for a long time, but seldom a main focus for those interested in fisheries; the use of mosquito nets as fishing gear. This is assumed to be a terrible idea. By putting your net in the water with a goal of feeding your family or making a small income you are not only reducing protection from malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but also jeopardising the future sustainability of the fishery by sieving the fragile coral reef waters of fish of any size. This has been much discussed, though little scrutinised, with the result usually being to make it illegal – the case in Mozambique despite this impacting some of the poorest people. This I did know when I began and I must admit I presumed was a necessary evil to preserve the fish stocks for future generations.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise when on my very first day in the city of Pemba, having some lunch near the beach, when I saw a group of women very obviously fishing with their bright blue mosquito nets right by the shore. Surely this was quite risky? When I arrived in the much smaller villages north of the city which were to be my focus much of the same; women in the shallow waters, up to about chest height fishing with several mosquito nets sewn together in groups of three or four. Some days, groups of women fishing as far as the eye could see. Not an objection to be heard or fisheries official to be seen.

My first objective was to try to understand better the who, what, why and how of mosquito net fishing the only way I could think of; by going fishing with them. Whilst making a complete idiot of myself by apparently hauling in the net like a hapless baby, I saw a totally different side of the activity; it was fun. The groups of women were clearly good friends and laughed and joked whilst fishing (with or without my influence I should mention). This, I reflected, was in such contrast to their other main occupation of farming where they spend much of their time alone or with family on a small plot of land.

Early on in my research it was obvious there was more to it for women in what is a very conservative, patriarchal culture. Enabled by the free availability, lack of necessary fishing skills, and importantly perception of mosquito net fishing as acceptable ‘women’s work’ this has become their opportunity to make their own money (which can be more likely to contribute to community development than patriarchal income), to feed their children what is actually particularly a nutritious meal (Kawarazuka &  Béné, 2011), and of course a chance to have a break from the demands of their families! On top of this they had figured out their own economics; allotting catch according to net ownership, friendship loans of cash and food, and divisions of labour. Generating their own small industry. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Mozambique was recently rated 15th lowest in the world in the Girl’s Opportunity Index (Save The Children, 2016), and Cabo Delgado so remote from the capital of Maputo has some catching up to do with the rest of the country. Girls grow up here told that their best bet at a good life is to find a good husband, though divorce is not uncommon. To have an independent way to support your family can be more than survival but a way out of abject poverty.

If you’re wondering where the men are in this story – good question. I couldn’t really find them, and this alludes to the crux of the issue with mosquito net fishing. Because the men were using mosquito nets for fishing, you just probably won’t see them. They are further offshore, fishing with much bigger nets adapted for use over coral reefs where they would normally snag and tear, fishing in bigger groups with much larger catch sizes. This is what is seen as the problem with mosquito net fishing. Accordingly, a taboo is attached to this activity which does not exist for the women and the men hide what they are doing.

These differences are well known to the local people, and women fish so brazenly because they are not seen as a threat to the fishery. Yet nowhere in my preparation for this research, within the media, peer review literature or indeed by talking to officials did this come up. And I shouldn’t have been surprised – women are so often excluded from fisheries research. This may be because globally they play mostly secondary roles as traders, processors or indeed cooks. But even primary activities such as mosquito net fishing and what is probably one of the most widespread activities in small-scale fisheries, gleaning, are routinely disregarded in management and policy formation, whatever the governance system. This is reflected in research which focuses almost exclusively on male fisheries. But we are wising up! The field of gender and fisheries, and indeed gender and the oceans is rapidly growing. Not just as an area of interest, but driven by our increasing understanding of the critical role women play in successful development, conservation and sustainable management.

As I continue my research, both further in to mosquito net fisheries elsewhere and also more generally in to links between the oceans and human health with the SOPHIE project at ECEHH, I know that gender will be a key focus for me. Importantly I also believe it should be a key focus in all research of this kind; whilst I may seem obvious to us now that leaving out half of the picture leads to terrible policies and results we have several centuries of half-baked research to backfill with the full picture!

You can find out more about Rebecca’s research and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health here.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

Find us on: Facebook : Twitter : Instagram : LinkedIn  

If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

Endangered Sharks on Sale in the UK

Written by Catherine Hobbs

 

Many shark populations are at risk, primarily due to overexploitation. In response,  conservation measures have been applied in an attempt to halt the decline of endangered species. A team of researchers led by Dr Andrew Griffiths at the University of Exeter sought to investigate the sale of shark products in fishmongers, fish and chip takeaways and Asian food wholesalers in England. Through DNA barcoding (a method using specific DNA sequences to identify species) they uncovered patterns of shark species found in the products and highlighted the diverse range of vulnerable sharks on sale to the general public.

For the first time in Europe, mini-barcodes were also used to identify species from dried shark fins obtained from a UK wholesaler intending to supply Asian restaurants and supermarkets. Analysis revealed a range of threatened species, including the endangered and ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (CITES) listed scalloped hammerhead shark. A listing in CITES works by subjecting international trade of certain species to a rigorous licencing system and requires an assessment by the exporting country that the trade will not be detrimental to wild populations. The addition of scalloped hammerheads to Appendix II of CITES in 2014 provided conservationists with the hope that populations might bounce back. The findings in this study, however, indicate the need for larger-scale investigations to properly identify patterns of shark fin sales.

 

Dr Griffiths said, “the discovery of endangered hammerhead sharks is significant as it highlights how widespread the sale of declining species really is – even reaching Europe and the UK”. He goes on to say, “the result of the study is consistent with extensive separate investigations focusing on Asia, which commonly identified scalloped hammerhead in fin processing”. Additional fins sourced from a large seizure in the UK by the UK Border Force were also analysed. These fins originated from Mozambique and were on their way to Asia, emphasising the role the UK already plays in policing this damaging global trade.

Examination of the products from fishmongers and takeaways revealed that the majority of samples were identified as Spiny Dogfish, a small demersal shark that is endangered in Europe. However, it is important to note that the samples may have been imported from more sustainable stocks elsewhere, rather than from prohibited landings in the EU. Of great significance was the universal use of ambiguous ‘umbrella’ sales terms, where many species are labelled with the same name. Here it is clear that not only the presence of labels is important, but that specificity is key. Indeed, full compliance with EU legislations on the labelling of seafood was not observed and, without such labels, endangered species are at potentially increased risk of unsustainable exploitation.

First author, Catherine Hobbs said “this withholds vital information from consumers as they are subjected to buying endangered species when they perhaps thought the product was sustainably sourced”. She went on to say “it may be of particular relevance regarding potential allergies as well as pollutant content. Contaminants found in some sharks such as mercury, for example, could pose severe consequences to human health”.

Knowledge of shark species consumption in the UK, especially those of prohibited species and those of high conservation concern, enhances our ability to address the decline in shark populations. These findings indicate the need for more informative and accurate seafood labelling, not only empowering consumers to make informed decisions as to eating preferences, but also helping to reduce fraud. This could therefore aid in the conservation of threatened species. The study also highlights the existence of imported fins from highly threatened sharks and the UK must therefore be held accountable for its contribution to global shark decline.

 

 

The paper has been published in the journal Scientific Reports;

Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate Patterns of Species Utilisation in UK Shark Products Reveals Threatened Species on Sale

 

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

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If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

 

 

It’s World Penguin Day!

 Today is World Penguin Day!

 
Penguins are some of the most recognisable characters amongst the cast of species that call the oceans their home. Whether they love them (almost everyone!) or hate them, people I meet rarely fail to register an emotional response when I tell them I work on penguins. And that’s got to be a good thing this World Penguin Day because, globally, penguins are not fairing well. Of the 18 species of penguin, 11 are undergoing population declines and 10 are considered as threatened on the IUCN Red List. Penguins are threatened by climate change, pressure from fisheries interactions and pollution, amongst other things. But there are successful conservation stories for penguins species too and teams of dedicated people are working to ensure these charismatic species stick around to see many a more World Penguin Day in future.
Have a look at this blog post to find out more about our work to conserve African penguins: http://multimedia.earthwatch.org/a-comeback-story-in-the-making
or this recently accepted review for more information on all 18 species: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2019.00248/abstract.
A Penguin-eye view: foraging for fish

Happy World Penguin Day!

Words and Images by ExeterMarine researcher Richard Sherley.

SOPHIE website launched

Author – Alexander Smalley

Research in the field of Oceans and Human Health gets a big boost this week, as the Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe project launches its new website.

Designed to encourage debate between different sectors, Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe (SOPHIE for short) will build a community of researchers and practitioners to explore the links between our oceans and our health.

The new website will share information about the project and provide a platform for bringing marine specialists together with experts from medicine and public health. The site also provides wider opportunities for the public to get involved, with researchers keen to hear from those with an interest in marine issues, ‘blue’ tourism, or healthcare.

In one example, members of the public are being encouraged to share their experiences of interventions which harness the benefits of interacting with the ocean, in the hope of inspiring similar initiatives.

The project is led by a team from the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, and has attracted €2 million in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. It is a collaboration between several partners across Europe.

You can view the new website at https://sophie2020.eu and follow SOPHIE on Twitter here https://twitter.com/@OceansHealthEU.

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!

 

Laying strong foundations for sustainable small-scale fisheries and marine conservation

Author – Dr Ana Nuno, Research Fellow and Project Coordinator for Omali Vida nón

A remote and poorly known small island located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Central Africa, Principe (Sao Tome and Principe) and its people rely heavily on small scale fisheries. “I’m a fisherman with great pride! I am not afraid to say it anywhere in the world: I am a fisherman!” says one of the men during our project workshops. In a similar workshop organized for fish traders, an occupation mostly done by women, one of them tells us: “being a fish trader is good because we do not depend on our husbands… we can buy what we want… eat and drink what we want…support our children’s education… it’s very good for us”. It is clear than more than simply providing food (average annual fish consumption in the country is one of the highest in Africa) and income, fishing is intrinsic to these local communities’ lives and the status of marine resources affects all of them.

a fisherman’s catch (credit: Ana Nuno)

When these same communities report having to travel farther away, spend more time at sea and increase the amount of fishing gear in order to get similar amounts of fish that they used to catch near the coast some years ago, the usual suspects come to mind. Scarce alternative sources of income, lack of resources and capacity for marine conservation and fisheries management plus limited monitoring and enforcement mean that overfishing and habitat degradation are affecting the viability of Principean fishing livelihoods. For example, in 2012, the entire island of Príncipe and its surrounding waters was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its global biodiversity significance. However, in reality, there is no enforcement to support this designation (and there is no formal protection provided to any marine areas around the neighbour island of São Tomé).

Tia, one of the project focal points, conducting landing surveys (credit: Guillermo Porriños)

This project aims to improve marine biodiversity and livelihoods of coastal communities in Principe, based on collaborations among researchers (University of Exeter, UK), a local NGO (Principe Trust Foundation), the Regional Fisheries Department and the Biosphere Reserve Management Unit, and with support from Forever Principe (a collaborative conservation alliance that finances conservation through tourism activities) and the Halpin Trust. From July 2016 (when the project started) until now, much has been learnt and, more importantly, fishers and fish traders have remained central to all interventions. Due to limited governmental control, there is a strong need for participatory approaches involving local men and women in any management measures, since they will be the future enforcers of such measures. Fishers and fish traders have thus been actively involved in: identifying project priorities and target areas of intervention; landing surveys data collection (e.g. focal points from different communities record information on fishing gear, effort and catch twice a week); and mapping their own fishing areas (e.g. fishers take GPS trackers when they go out fishing and contribute to identifying important fishing grounds and potential conflicts with other uses, such as industrial fishing).

Fishing community in Principe (credit: Ana Nuno)

One of the highlights of the project so far has been the discussions and identification of “community ideas” with a positive impact on the sustainability of artisanal fisheries. Several months of project meetings and discussions at each of the six fishing communities allowed us to identify the best locally-suitable ideas to improve management of marine resources and benefit fishers and fish traders. These ideas, identified and proposed by each of the communities following specific criteria and judged by all project partners, include, for example, developing a crafts center, building a community headquarter or providing better fish storage equipment. With its implementation just beginning, we look forward to learn from each investment made possible thanks to Darwin Initiative funds and use them as catalysers for community dynamism and capacity building.

Fishers describing important and common fish species in Principe (credit: Litoney Matos)

Our emphasis on participatory approaches and local capacity building is starting to pay off. Project efforts are increasingly recognized by the wider community and discussions about potential future measures (e.g. co-managed areas) and project expansion to neighbour island are on the table. With much progress still to be made, it’s very encouraging to see that this project, only possible thanks to funds from Darwin Initiative, Forever Principe and the Halpin Trust, is creating momentum for sustainable small-scale fisheries and marine conservation on this small island nation.

#ExeterMarine is a interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields. If you are interested in working with our researchers or students, contact Michael Hanley or visit our website!