James Cook University (JCU) and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) researchers have joined a world-first, global effort to survey shark numbers in coral reef environments.
The three-year survey of sharks and rays is the largest of its kind and is designed to provide fundamental data essential to building effective conservation programs.
JCU researcher and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries, Professor Colin Simpfendorfer said sharks are facing growing threats in the world’s oceans.
“Globally a quarter of shark and ray species are facing an elevated threat of extinction,” said Professor Simpfendorfer. “This research will help better understand the status of sharks and guide decisions about how to better protect them.”
The Global FinPrint survey is sponsored by Vulcan Inc., a Paul G. Allen company in the United States.
The research team is led by Dr Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in the US, and also includes Dr Colin Simpfendorfer, Drs Michelle Heupel, Aaron MacNeil and Mark Meekan from AIMS, and Dr Mike Heithaus from Florida International University.
The survey portion of the Global FinPrint initiative will use baited remote underwater video (BRUVs) to survey sharks, rays and other marine life in coral reef ecosystem.
The team said a lack of comprehensive, up-to-date data hinders efforts to protect and replenish shark populations.
“This three year study is important for conservation as pressures on shark and ray populations increase. These underwater surveys will gather underwater video data on an unprecedented global scale that will dramatically increase what we know about reef shark populations,” said Dr Michelle Heupel.
Video surveys will be undertaken in more than 400 locations across three key geographic regions: Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands.
The new data will be consolidated with thousands of hours of existing video to form a single dataset, producing the first global standardised survey of sharks, rays and skates in coral reef environments.
Dr Mark Meekan noted that: “better management of sharks and rays starts with better information about where and when they occur, so that we can target mitigation and protect the areas that are critical habitats.”
The survey will also assist in understanding how marine ecosystems are affected in the absence of sharks. "Although sharks are among the most widespread predators in the ocean, we understand remarkably little about their overall role in ocean ecosystems," said Dr Aaron MacNeil.
Survey data will be made available through an open-access, database platform created by Vulcan’s technology development team and will include information on species density, habitats and diversity trends.
Researchers, policy makers, international governments and others will be able use this database to help inform conservation priorities, such as identifying and protecting areas with large or important shark populations, and to better understand the ecological importance of sharks as apex predators.
Prof Colin Simpfendorfer, JCU, firstname.lastname@example.org (Australia) +61(0)488 407 963 (Or contact Richard Davis to arrange interviews 0413 451 475)
Video grabs of Prof Simpfendorfer available at:
Dr Michele Heupel, AIMS, email@example.com, (Australia) +61(0)400 342 388
Dr Mark Meekan, AIMS, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61(0)429 101 812 (Australia)
Dr Aaron MacNeil, AIMS email@example.com, +61 (0)7 5641 4787 (Australia); +1 902 402 1273 (Canada)
About Vulcan, Inc.
Vulcan, Inc. creates and advances a variety of world-class endeavors and high-impact initiatives that change and improve the way people live, learn, do business and experience the world. Vulcan was founded in 1986 by investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, and oversees various business and charitable projects.
About James Cook University
One of the world's leading institutions focusing on the tropics, James Cook University is dedicated to creating a brighter future for life in the tropics world-wide, through graduates and discoveries that make a difference. The University conducts nationally significant and internationally recognised research in areas such as marine sciences, biodiversity, and tropical ecology.
About Australian Institute of Marine Science
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) is Australia’s premier tropical marine research agency that provides large-scale, long-term and world-class research that helps governments, industry and the wider community to make informed decisions about the management of Australia’s marine estate.