They might be the ocean's top predators, but overfishing and under-appreciation have diminished shark populations to such an extent that it threatens to upset the balance of an already fragile marine environment.
"According to surveys, less than 10% of the world's shark populations remain and the decline is continuing. This is extremely worrying as sharks are key components of marine biodiversity," noted scientist Dr. 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. This in turn could translate into sustainable economic benefits for local tour operators, dive companies and sports fisherman," Dr. Gore noted.
Dr. Gore is part of an international team from Marine Conservation International and leads the project funded by the UK's Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP) and the Save Our Seas Foundation. Together with Department of Environment (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.
"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 DOE Deputy Director Tim Austin.
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@example.com or 949-8469.
Marine Conservation International (MCI) is a partnership formed by marine scientists to enable them to pursue projects with conservation objectives in the most effective way. The Directors (senior partners) are Dr. Rupert Ormond, previously Director of the University of London's Marine Biological Station, and Dr. Mauvis 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 considerable experience of 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 non-profit organization with offices in Genève, 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 near Miami. 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. www.saveourseas.com
Overseas Territory Environment Programme is a joint programme of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development; its aim is to support country governments in the implementation of their Environmental Charters, as well as more generally address environmental management issues. In particular OTEP supplies funding for projects concerned with the conservation of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, and the mitigation of pollution and waste problems. www.ukotcf.org
For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver