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MAR Alliance has been carrying out research on various shark species for the last fifteen years across the nation's waters.� Currently, the organization is conducting its studies off Halfmoon Caye, located on the Southern Corner of Light House Reef Atoll. In recent years, Dr. Rachel Graham, the Director and Founder of MAR Alliance and her team have witnessed a significant increase in the shark population, after recording a concerning decline a decade ago. They have taken note of the return of species like the lemon shark. And, while these are encouraging statistics, the shark population in Belize remains under threat from overfishing and pollution. One of the processes used to gather information on the shark population is known as the long line method, an exercise where the sharks are hooked, tagged, measured, and released. News Five accompanied the MAR Alliance team off Half Moon Caye today on one of their research exercises.

Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MAR Alliance

"We caught four sharks today; in fact we have such an amazing team. We have this incredible alliance with fishers and guides and Fisheries. We actually caught seven sharks in total and one big logger head to put a satellite tag on. But right with this boat four sharks, a couple of females, a couple of males. What we caught just a few minutes ago, we caught four Caribbean Reef sharks, possibly the second most common sharks in the Caribbean and U.S., but they have really been hit very hard by over fishing, in the past few years I would say ten twenty years. But, they are really coming back, and we are starting to see them comeback in a big way in Light House and Turneffe and other places, and we are very excited about that because it means a lot for Belize's tourism and they also keep the coral reef very healthy. We also saw a lot of juveniles today on the west side. Thi9s is a really good sign. We want those adults and hoping we will be catching some adults, but juveniles, that is the next gen, the future of our sharks. We try email and WhatsApp but they don't respond to email and WhatsApp, they are very inconsiderate, what can I say. Unfortunately, we do have to catch them with hooks. We use circular hooks because we want to mouth catch them. We also put in the lines for very short periods of time because we don't want to stress them. Once we catch a shark we like to keep it in the water because it is a lot less stress that way. You see a lot of the times on the big channels they pull out the sharks. We don't like to do that so much, we can keep them in the water, keep them happy and we move very quickly. Our team is incredible, they move like a well oiled team. Everyone knows what to do, measure, fin clip samples, then get it ready for conventional tag. If it is a kind of shark we really want to be able to tag with a satellite tag, which is a lot more expensive, like the Great Hammer Head which is critically endangered, and Lemon Heads which we have not seen much of but we want to know more about, then we will put on one of these satellite tags which will tell us basically where it has been in its journey as a shark."


Belize Audubon Society Partners With MAR Alliance in Marine Conservation

MAR Alliances shark research is a team effort involving several partner agencies like the Belize Audubon Society. We spoke with Marty Alvarez, the Marine Protected Area Manager at the Belize Audubon Society about the collaborative effort in pooling resources and using the data collected to carry out operations. Here is what he told us.

Marty Alvarez, Marine Protected Area Manager, Belize Audubon Society

"They use the island here at Halfmoon Caye. One of the main things that we found out that they gave us are that the highest density of sharks in Belize exist here, and of course the most common being the Caribbean Reef Shark. That ties into what we do with our patrols, meaning that we conduct surveillance and enforcement patrols, and that basically correlates into the sharks we see. So, we aid them in providing logging, and of course resources we pool together, and vessels if needs be, getting valuable information from them. Belize Audubon Society is an N.G.O., the oldest conservation organization in Belize. So basically we have fifty years plus of protected areas management. So, all the information that we do get from other partners are fed into the management of the zone and of course Blue Hole as well."


Channel 5


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Half Moon Caye: Baby, There's A Shark In The Water!

Last Friday, we gave you a small snippet of our trip to the Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument. That's where the MarAlliance has been studying the sharks that call Belize's barrier reef home.

Tonight, we have full coverage of their tagging techniques and research on the shark population along the entire Meso-American Reef System. Daniel Ortiz has that story:



Those man-made pressures that continue to threaten sharks include overfishing, which has not stopped, the clearing of mangroves and seagrass that comes with development, and water pollution. Dr. Graham says that they have encountered sharks in the wild with material infections linked to pollution.

the MarAlliance has tagged over 1,000 sharks over the last 15 years. Some of those tagged sharks have been recaptured in neighboring countries, and each time, the subject had grown since their last sighting.

The Belize Fisheries Department is also another important ally for the MarAlliance.

Channel 7

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MarAlliance, Fifteen Years of Rehabilitating the Shark Population in Belize

They are considered ferocious predators and are often depicted as just that in films. But, to MarAlliance, sharks are the heartbeat of the ocean and, as a result, must be protected at all cost. That is why the work MarAlliance is doing to protect sharks across the region is so critical. On Friday, a News Five team was invited to MarAlliance's temporary base on Half Moon Caye where we got a glimpse into their decade and a half effort to monitor and rehabilitate the shark population in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Studies show that the atoll has the greatest concentration of shark species in Belize's waters. News Five's Paul Lopez has the story.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

A decade and a half ago, the estimated shark population in Belize was at serious risk of disappearing. Today, those numbers have rebounded, thanks to the work of Dr. Rachel Graham and her team at MarAlliance. Dr. Graham has been working with sharks in Belize since 1998. She began with research on whale sharks within the Gladden Spit and Silk Caye Marine Reserve. Then, in 2004 MarAlliance shifted its focus to the Lighthouse Reef Atoll where it is now monitoring thismegafauna.

Dr. Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

"From� the Whale Shark work I did in 1998 which wrapped in mid 2000s, in like 2005, during that time working with traditional fishers from several communities down south, PG, Independence, Placencia, and more, they were telling me look, there is a real problem. There aren't many more sharks left. We are seeing fewer and fewer sharks out here. And so, once we got Whale Sharks protected and Galdden Split Silk Caye Marine Protected Area done, it was then time to look at what the situation was with other sharks."

Every year, for the past fifteen years, a team of fishermen and scientists has been setting up campfor two weeks and a half on Halfmoon Caye, located within the Atoll. This is the base wheremonitoring will be conducted in the surrounding waters.Today, we sawthe long line, a method used for collecting data. A five hundred foot rope, fitted with fifty lines of hooks and baited with slices of barracuda, is placed on the surface to catch sharks.

Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

"We caught four sharks today; in fact we have such an amazing team. We have this incredible alliance with fishers and guides and Fisheries. We actually caught seven sharks in total and one big logger head to put a satellite tag on. But right with this boat four sharks, a couple of females, a couple of males. What we caught just a few minutes ago, we caught four Caribbean Reef sharks, possibly the second most common sharks in the Caribbean and U.S., but they have really been hit very hard by over fishing, in the past few years I would say ten twenty years. But, they are really coming back, and we are starting to see them comeback in a big way in Light House and Turneffe and other places, and we are very excited about that because it means a lot for Belize's tourism and they also keep the coral reef very healthy."

MarAlliance has tagged over a thousand sharks over the last decade. The greatest threat to the shark population in Belize is the illegal transnational trade. Neighboring Guatemala and Honduras are said to have a huge appetite for shark meat.

Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

"Generally speaking there is not a culture of eating a lot of sharks here in Belize. People say, I love my panades. But, a lot of people have moved over to fish panades and beans panades. I put out a documentary in 2011 called "Where Have Our Sharks Gone?" A lot of them went not only in people's plates, in panades, but especially over the border. So, the majority of our sharks are going across the border because there is more of a culture of eating sharks."

In addition to MarAlliance's work, enforcement is also required to ensure that fishermen are not fishing within a no-take zone, and that those fishing sharks are doing so with the necessary license. Marty Alvarez, the Marine Area Protected Manager at the Belize Audubon Society,spoke to us about the challenges that come with patrolling the Atoll.

Marty Alvarez, Marine Area Protected Manager, Belize Audubon Society

"As we saw earlier, there were some fishers that were close to the no take zone. They were playing cat and mouse. So, what they might do, they might fish close to the border, which is the no take zone and when the patrol vessel reach in front of them they say boss I am outside the border so I can't be charged. It is something we need to educate them about and let them be more stewards of their environment. They think they are smart, but we could be smarter as well. We made couple arrest recently. We made one on April tenth and one on April twelfth, both of them being undersized products."

While these challenges persistwithin the fishing community, more and more career fishermen are seeing the importance of protecting the shark population for future generations. Fishermen Hilmar Salazar and Everisto Muschamp left their fishing careers to contribute to this important work.

Hilmar Salazar, Community and Field Coordinator, MarAlliance

"I was like; I don't know what they are doing with sharks. I was so scared about it, but when I saw what they were doing, and then I get a question mark in my head. I said, I want to see what is going on and what they do with this animal, why they are tagging. Then comes that question in my head. I said I will stay here and see what they do. From there that comes that passion."

Everisto Muschamp, Fisherman, MarAlliance

"For me doing research is important to make sure we have a better understanding of the fishing industry, so we could have long lasting industries here in Belize so that our generations to come will have this marine wildlife to see as well."

Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

"I think one of the things that makes it absolutely worth it is not only the incredible team work w have between fishers, scientist, institutions all working together to see the shark coming back after their populations being hit so hard."


Channel 5



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