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#434923 - 04/05/12 04:57 PM The Belize Shark Project
Marty Offline

Submitted by Dr. Rachel Graham, the Belize Shark Project

Sharks and their lesser-known cousins the rays have been featured repeatedly in the news the past two years and fortunately not only in regards to incidents between sharks and people. The world is finally learning that many populations of sharks and rays are in global decline as a result ofexcessive fishing pressure, with tens of millions of sharks and an unknown quantity of rays captured yearly as bycatch to the tuna and swordfish fisheries and as targeted catch to supply the voracious demands of the Asian fin soup market and the Lenten seasonís requirement for white meat.

What many do not know is that through their role as apex predators in the food chain, sharks and rays (collectively known as elasmobranchs) are vital components of healthy and functional marine ecosystems and commercial fish stocks. They play key roles in structuring fish communities and fostering reef resilience against the relentless impacts of algal overgrowth, climate change and possibly even ocean acidification. These animals’ life history characteristics such as slow growth, late maturity and low fecundity (ability of produce offspring) increase their vulnerability to overexploitation and therefore indicate a dire need for management.



The unfortunate news is that we are racing against time as populations dwindle to find out as much as we can about these charismatic animals and best forge effective and rational conservation strategies for their survival. Belize has been relatively pro-active in shark conservation: Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve were the first Marine Protected Areas (MPA) declared to encompass critical shark feeding habitat and enforce regulations related to the management of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) in 2000 and Hol Chan expanded itís boundaries to include Shark Ray Alley. The nurse shark (Ginglymostomacirratum) was added as a protected species in July 2011, and eight of the 13 MPAs now include management actions for the conservation of sharks and rays.

While Belize still possesses sharks and rays and much of the habitat considered essential for elasmobranchs, overfishing and uncontrolled development in nursery habitats are rapidly impacting our local populations. A broad survey of sharks in the south has already revealed that once abundant hammerheads, lemon and tiger sharks are now rare. More alarming is the news that the country’s two species of sawfish have not been reliably sighted in over 15 years suggesting that these species are now ecologically, if not locally extinct. A rapid assessment of the Spanish Point coast (behind Ambergris Caye) that is increasingly being targeted by Guatemalan net fishers was conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildtracks and fishers from the coastal fishing town of Sarteneja in 2010. Results suggest the existence of pupping and nursery grounds for the longnose stingray (Dasyatisguttata) and the virtually unknown Caribbean whiptail stingray (Himanturaschmardae), both categorized as International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Data Deficient and increasingly targeted by fisheries as sharks disappear. We also identified the first nursery area in Belize and the Mesoamerican region for bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) species of concern. Local fisher interviews revealed the existence of nurseries for the Red Listed Endangered great hammerhead (Sphyrnamokarran), bonnethead (S. tiburo), tiger sharks (Galeocerdocuvier), and the possible existence of the Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Sharks and rays were estimated to generate at least US$750,000 in 2008 through protected area receipts at Hol Chan alone, and a minimum of US$4 million generated by all shark-related tourism (including whale sharks at Gladden Spit and Caribbean reef sharks at the Blue Hole) thereby demonstrating a strong incentive to keep sharks and rays alive in Belize. Therefore there is an urgent need to characterize and protect poorly known yet critical shark populations and shark nurseries in northern Belize. The northern Belize assessment will gather information on the populations and diversity, critical habitats and behavior of sharks and rays in the Corozal Bay out to the contiguous Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve (both transboundary with Mexico) and down the coast and barrier reef level with Robinson Point, south of Belize City. The study also includes Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belizeís most remote coral reef site encompasses two of the countryís high profile MPAs; Blue Hole Natural Monument and Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, where our long-term monitoring of shark populations takes place. We are using a variety of tools and techniques to study sharks including in-water transects to survey rays, baited remote underwater video installations, a range of tag types (conventional, acoustic and satellite tags) to study behavior and spatial ecology of tagged species and fisher and public surveys on perception and knowledge. We are fortunate to work in the north with a range of partners including stakeholder communities, Fisheries, Forestry, Marine reserve staff, tour guides and operators, fishers and non-governmental organizations such as the Belize Audubon Society, Sarteneja Association for Conservation and Development, Green Reef, Wildtracks and Blue Ventures. This assessment forms part of the Wildlife Conservation Societyís broader Belize Shark Project that aims to foster the effective conservation of elasmobranchs throughout Belize, primarily through the lens of targeted legislation and the current network of 13 marine protected areas. Key objectives include baseline studies on sharks and rays, their behavior and role in the ecosystem, raising awareness, capacity building in research methods as well as assessing the scope and impact of the fishery and providing policy support to help enact effective management of elasmobranchs in Belize and abroad.

We have our work cut out for us to ground true fish accounts, gain an understanding of these vulnerable species and use these findings to support their effective management. We look forward to providing you with updates of our research, outreach and conservation results through articles in The San Pedro Sun and postings on our Belize Shark Project website www.belizesharks.org and Facebook page. We will also be presenting on sharks and rays at the Caye Caulker Community Center at 7pm April 10th and the San Pedro Lion’s Den at 7pm on April 11th. Look forward to seeing you there!

Dr. Graham is the Director of the Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program at The Wildlife Conservation Society


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#434965 - 04/05/12 11:35 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Rachel Graham is giving a presentation on sharks at the Lion's Den on the 11th at 7pm - BE THERE!

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#435169 - 04/08/12 01:11 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Bear Offline
Marty I hope some one can provide a synopsis of her resentation. Dr G is incredible...

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#435192 - 04/08/12 02:42 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
I'd fly out for this
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#435219 - 04/08/12 05:47 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Bear Offline
I agree Katie, I told my wife I might need to fly "down" for this but I go the fish eye. You'll just have to do it for me...I would seriouslyy hope that the appropriate ministries would at least take heed of the state of the sawfish and realise that the Guate net fishing in the vicintiy of AC is a repeat in progress...

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#435358 - 04/10/12 07:47 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Bump.
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Belize based travel specialist
www.belize-trips.com
info@belize-trips.com

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#435506 - 04/12/12 02:47 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize Shark Project Ė Part I

Many of you realize that the environment around us is fragile and if we wish to have conserve its strength and beauty for our future generations, then we need to work together Ė but many do not realize that for our well known and loved marine ecosystem here in Belize, the shark population is key to its longevity.

Rachel Graham, the Shark Expert here in Belize, came to Caye Caulker yesterday to inform us of the work that she is doing with the assistance of Belize Dive Services, on Sharks here in Northern Belize. Rachelís work prior to this was done with the Whale Sharks down in the South of Belize and now that their populations are not high risk, she has turned her attention to both sharks and their lesser known cousins the rays.

Rachel told us ĎThe world is finally learning that many populations of sharks and rays are in global decline as a result of excessive fishing pressure. With tens of millions of sharks and an unknown quantity of rays captured yearly as by catch to the tuna and swordfish fisheries and as targeted catch to supply the voracious demands of the Asian fin soup market and the Lenten seasonís requirement for white meat.í

Sharks, in their role as apex predators, play a vital role in healthy and functional marine ecosystems and commercial fish stocks. However the fact that they have few offspring, live long lives and mature often in their teens means that as a species they are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and therefore a great risk of being fished out!!!

With no time like the present, we are answering her call for attention and in our own small way, we intend to assist and back her endeavors in order to protect our reef that we so love!!

Next week I will write about how Rachel and the Belize Shark Project Team hope to prevent the shark population of Belize being diminished but, if you cannot wait until then, please feel free to find further information on www.belizesharkproject.org!

Raggamuffin Tours


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#435570 - 04/12/12 10:38 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
I was surprised how few turned up for Rachel's presentation, which was so incredible, I wanted to jump into the sea and hug up a bull shark. Lion's was the wrong venue, but I will reorganize in a place more suitable at some time in the future. Lots of fascinating valuable info. We are lucky to have someone like her living and researching in our country.
_________________________
Belize based travel specialist
www.belize-trips.com
info@belize-trips.com

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#435843 - 04/15/12 01:02 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Dr. Graham presents on the Status of Sharks in Belize


In Wednesday night, April 11th, Dr. Rachael Graham of the World Conservation Society held a presentation on the status of sharks in Belize. The one hour presentation commenced at 8PM and was held at the San Pedro Lionís Den.

Dr. Graham, Director of the Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society spoke to The San Pedro Sun before her presentation, “My presentation tonight is actually going to focus on the status and the future of sharks and rays in Belize. Itís going to give a very broad overview of the status of sharks globally then go a little bit into the biology of sharks. I will also be sharing some kind of neat facts that people donít know about sharks and rays.” Her presentation also shed light on the research that she has been doing in the country. “My research is very broad brush at this point. We started off with the whale sharks in 1998. That’s how a lot of the shark research started here in Belize. But when I realized that whale sharks are doing pretty well, I started looking into what I like to call the toothy sharks, like Bull sharks, Caribbean Reef sharks, Nurse Sharks and so forth. What I was finding was that actually we have a fishery for sharks here and it has seriously depleted the shark populations. In fact, the last time that the co-op took in shark meat was 1993 because they didnít feel that it was productive enough and most Belizean fishers who had fished sharks stopped fishing shark.” While Belizean fishermen ceased fishing sharks, fishermen from neighboring countries took over and are now scraping the barrel.

What Dr. Graham hopes to do is educate the general public on the importance of sharks to the ecosystem, especially to the survival of the reef ecosystem, “Sharks and rays are incredibly important to the ecosystem and especially the Coral Reef Eco System. What they do is they keep a lot of their prey populations in balance and by doing so that tends to keep our coral reef a lot more resilient. It also keeps our commercial fish stocks in much better shape. In fact, if you remove sharks and rays, a lot of the time you are going to find that youíll have all kinds of ramifications from their loss that impact the snappers, the groupers, the jacks, the herbivores and finally, what may be causing the algae over growth on the reefs here in Belize.

The presentation touched on topics that included: Threats to Sharks and Rays; Challenges that Conservation efforts face; Current Global situation of Sharks; Shark Species Population Decline since the 1970′s; the Lack of Sustainable Shark Fisheries worldwide; Reasons for Sharks and Rays’ Vulnerability and Age at Maturity of sharks, among others.

Dr. Graham commended San Pedro on its efforts and work in Shark Conservation spreading the message that sharks are more valuable alive than dead, ”One of the things that San Pedro has shown very very well is their pride in their sharks. I think theyíre very proud of their sharks here and they have demonstrated it time and time again, particularly through Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley that a live shark is worth very much more than a dead shark. And I hope that they will pass that message onto the rest of the country and to the rest of the region.”

In closing the presentation, a very touching clip of a field trip that Dr. Graham took with children from Sartenaja Village to Hol Chan Shark Ray, was shown. The kids were initially scared of sharks and some, even of the water. After they were briefed on the friendly creatures they soon braved the waters and experienced swimming with the sharks and rays. Speaking of the presentation, one attendee stated, “I am really excited at the fact that Dr. Graham has started educating the community on the sharks and rays. I learned some new facts about sharks and rays. It was really interesting. The video on the kids in Sarteneja was really inspiring. The community will benefit greatly from more of Dr. Graham’s seminars.

Dr. Graham is scheduled to move to San Pedro later this year as she commences her Northern Belize Shark Project geared at northern Belize which includes San Pedro.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see lots more photos of her presentation, including a lot of photos of her slideshow... in the San Pedro Sun


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#435863 - 04/15/12 03:29 PM Re: The Belize Shark Project [Re: Marty]
seashell Offline
Disappointing turn out.
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