Why do we care? Despite the longstanding fascination with these predators, only recently have we started to realize just how important they are to keeping the oceans healthy and just how much trouble they face around the world. Conservation efforts on a global scale are needed now more than ever.
The survival of sharks and rays is important to the entire ecosystem, including us. The removal of predators like sharks and mesopredators likes rays can disrupt the balance of marine food webs and cause large scale habitat changes (Heithaus et al. 2008). Sharks and rays have substantial economic value by contributing to the global fishing and tourism industries.
Recent estimates suggest that around 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and/or meat (Worm et al. 2013). For many species, catch rates have been so high that populations have declined severely. Habitat loss, particularly in continental and insular shelves of tropical and subtropical regions, has also impacted elasmobranch species the world over (Dulvy et al. 2014). Because of a lack of consistent surveys, it is difficult to determine what pre-exploitation densities and diversities “should” be to set restoration targets.
Fishing regulations, protected areas, and trade controls are all being employed to prevent the extinction of many sharks and rays around the world. Global FinPrint will help us assess how these strategies are working and identify where greater effort is needed by mapping shark and ray abundance across the world’s reefs.
Baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) are a reliable, time and cost effective method for studying aquatic species. This project will allow the team to compare reefs with different characteristics to see what factors (such as coral cover, fish population density, fishing pressure, or water temperature) determine the number, types, and sizes of sharks seen on a reef. With this information, our team can determine the role of sharks and rays in various locations, highlighting research needs and prioritizing conservation actions to protect what is left or rebuild populations that are in trouble. The data – and the scientific adventure – will be made accessible to students, the general public, governments and other scientists through an open-access database to be created by Vulcan, Inc., maximizing Global FinPrint’s impact on marine education and conservation.
The Global FinPrint initiative is working to engage and educate audiences with footage of these amazing species and the places they call home. This will be achieved through the use of media, video-based K-12 lesson plans, and outreach to the community and policy leaders. Visit our Vimeo page to see the most recent highlight footage.