Expedition: Tiger Shark
Berry Islands, Bahamas
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal - Films! Expeditions! The web! More! - to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”
- Sylvia Earle
The name alone conjures images of an action packed blockbuster! While a film crew was involved, there is nothing fictional about the collaborative effort that took place aboard the Waitt Institute research vessel during this February 2012 expedition. In a joint effort with The University of Miami, RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, The Nature Conservancy, Summit Series and MacGillivray Freeman Films: One World One Ocean, we set out to tag sharks located off the Barry Islands in the Bahamas.
Shark populations have declined at least 70% in the past 50 years. With this dramatic change in the shark populations, scientists are already seeing the repercussions make their way through the food web. This was one of several issues that were the focus of the 2011 Summit Series at Sea conference. Ideas were shared on how best to save our precious oceans and the lives within them. Along with this exchange there was the realization that all of those in attendance were sitting just miles away from a “Marine Protected Area” or MPA that was not actually being protected.
So how do you manage and preserve a MPA? Where should they be developed and what is the actual benefit that we can expect from them? For the answers, why not let the marine life tell us what they need, where they need it and what they need it for? That is where Dr. Neil Hammerschlag from The University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program comes in. His plan is to “listen” to the sharks through close monitoring of their activities and noting the way in which they utilize the MPA located near the Berry Islands.
“The goal of this work is to understand the migratory routes and residency patterns of these species to identify “hot spots“ in place and time that are critical for mating, giving birth and feeding as well as locations where these animals are vulnerable to destructive fishing. By characterizing and identifying these hot spots, we can help supply policy makers with the data they need to implement appropriate management strategies that will improve protection for these species (i.e. marine reserve design).”
- Dr. Neil Hammerschlag
A problem with global implications, a team of brilliant scientists, support from some of the most respected conservation organizations and an Academy Award nominated documentary film crew… The only thing missing was a platform to launch the expedition from. This is where the Waitt Institute comes in. We were approached with the request to offer logistical support with the use of the Waitt research vessel and various members of our team including Joe Lepore, who would serve as Diving Safety Officer, and Tom Sharp as the helicopter pilot.
The expedition started with Tom Sharp taking members of the team on an aerial reconnaissance of the waters near the Berry Islands to identify the best areas to find sharks. After three “hot spots” were located the team set out on the research vessel for four days of tagging. During this time, five sharks were caught, examined and tagged. Not only were sharks tagged but various tests were performed in an effort to develop a solar powered tracking device that would last the lifetime of the shark rather than just a few years as is the case with current tracking devices.
In the following weeks the sharks would be sending valuable information back to the University of Miami for further analysis. What the results would tell were actually quite amazing and not always what we had expected. The information gathered would have implications not only for understanding the ways in which the sharks utilize the MPA but also in matters pertaining to eco-tourism and the future development of solar powered tracking devices.
To read more about Expedition: Tiger Shark, including the amazing location where one of the sharks would eventually end up, please click on the links below.
Want to see where the sharks are now? Click here to track them!
Learn more about Expedition: Tiger Shark on the RSMAS blog
For news on MPAs around the world, visit the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas blog