Ensuring shark survival

A research project by a Massey University PhD student will provide the first baseline and detailed quantitative assessment of shark abundance and distribution in the Galapagos Islands.

Deploying cameras to photograph marine life in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. 

*photo credit Paola Diaz, Charles Darwin Foundation

A successfully tagged shark   

*photo credit David Acuna and the Charles Darwin Foundation

A research project by a Massey University PhD student will provide the first baseline and detailed quantitative assessment of shark abundance and distribution in the Galapagos Islands.

“Sharks are the ocean’s ‘balance keepers’, essential to keep our oceans productive, diverse and resilient against impacts like climate change,” says David Acuna.

“Sharks are ‘umbrella species’, as they have higher habitat requirements than other species. By protecting sharks you are ensuring the protection of the other species that share their habitats. 

A shark refuge

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the last shark refuges on Earth, still harbouring abundant populations of sharks. David is working to understand the conservation status and spatial ecology of these coastal shark populations, with a view to assessing the effectiveness of the Reserve.

The research is also focused on the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), an apex predator. 

It involves seasonal survey campaigns around the GMR using Baited Remote Underwater Stereo Video (BRUVS).

“This identifies sites that are critical for sharks deserving more conservation efforts. Secondly telemetry (satellite and acoustic) is used to develop a better understanding of shark movement around the marine reserve.”

David is also using an innovative stereovideo technique to study the fine-scale distribution and behaviour of these animals.

Originally from the Canary Islands in Spain, David moved to Galapagos to work at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the shark project, then decided to focus on the topic for his PhD.

“I wanted to work with Massey’s Professor Marti Anderson and her team at Massey to hone my skills in marine ecology.”

New species

The study has yielded not only common shark species, but some that were absent of previous survey efforts. The tracks of the 20 tagged tiger sharks have shown interesting movements and behaviours with new sites recorded. It has even recorded three new fish species for the Galapagos Islands. 

“The knowledge we gain will be essential to conservation management, identifying species and populations most at risk and providing key information for the design and evaluation of spatial management approaches – such as Marine Protected Areas,” says David.

Social importance

The research is complemented by a social study to clarify human-shark interactions. This will provide critical information for creating effective management strategies and conservation of shark populations globally.

“We hope to help ensure sharks’ long-term survival in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressures.“

 

*This study is being conducted in conjunction with the Charles Darwin Research Station, the Galapagos National Park, Universities of Curtin (Australia) and La Laguna (Spain). Save Our Seas Foundation, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic are financially supporting the work.

Contact

David Acuna

D.Acuna-Marrero@massey.ac.nz

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