Shark Conservation Cayman
With the help of acoustic tags, baited remote underwater camera surveys (BRUVs), diving surveys and satellite tags, the Department of Environment together with Marine Conservation International, supported by the Cayman Islands Brewery’s White Tip shark conservation fund, have been studying, monitoring and working to protect local shark populations in the Cayman Islands since 2009. In 2016 the Sharklogger programme, a network of local divers and diving centers, expanded this work and helps the research team to monitor shark populations on all three islands in Cayman.
Environmental and economic importance of sharks in Cayman
Sharks represent keystone species in the marine environment. Sharks are vital for healthy coral reefs by helping to keep corals and reef fish communities healthy, in balance and thriving. Recent studies have shown that the removal of Caribbean reef sharks from the reef environment can lead to the degradation and eventual smothering of the coral reef by algae. This action is facilitated by the initial boost in smaller predatory species, such as grouper and snapper, which then remove the herbivorous species, such as parrotfish, from the reef. Without their prey, grouper and snapper then decline in number. Sharks are also valuable to the tourism industry. In Cayman, the total economic value of sharks is estimated to be between US$80 million and US$130.7 million annually to the Cayman economy. This encourages both a healthier marine environment and sustainable management of these important species.
Cayman’s sharks are protected under National Conservation Law (2013)
In the Cayman Islands, it is illegal to “take” any shark within coastal or offshore waters. “Take” means it is illegal to harm, possess or kill a shark with stiff penalties if convicted.
Which shark species are present in Cayman?
The Cayman Islands have a variety of shark species. Some shark species reside in Cayman all year around and inhabit coastal waters, other species are pelagic and seasonally pass by Cayman on migratory routes. These include:
Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)
Tiger Shark (Gladeocerdo cuvier)
Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyma mokarran)
Oceanic White Tip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)
Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
This citizen science programme is part of the Department of Environment’s (DoE) shark research and conservation efforts. Sharks are vital to the marine environment by keeping coral reefs and reef fish communities in balance and healthy. All sharks are protected in the Cayman Islands under the National Conservation Act, 2013, creating in effect a nationwide Shark Sanctuary (since 2015)1. The Sharklogger programme was designed and established by DoE’s Shark Project Officer, Dr Johanna Kohler in 2016 as part of a broader collaborative project with Marine Conservation International2. The Sharklogger Network involves members of the local diving community (resident divers/snorkelers, dive staff and dive operators) who collect dive data throughout the year to help with the monitoring of the local shark population close to shore.
Sharkloggers are residents who dive regularly and have voluntarily committed to logging every single dive and whether they saw a shark – or not – all in the name of science. This is different from reporting just shark sightings because in order for the data to have any meaning researchers must be able to calculate the “sharks per dive” which can only be done by knowing how many times divers were at a dive site and didn’t see a shark. Participants were also taught how to ID, size and sex the sharks they see. Monitoring where the sharks are helps researchers to infer what might drive them to be abundant in certain areas over others and how these patterns might change over time. This data helps inform conservation management, particularly if shark abundance overlaps with high fishing activity thus making the sharks more vulnerable in certain areas and/or times of the year.
DoE’s shark research is continuously supported by the White Tip Fund from the Cayman Islands’ Brewery. In 2008 the White tip beer was designed and created by the DoE, MCI and the brewery to generate funds for local shark research. Since then CayBrew are the main sponsor of DoE’s shark research and conservation efforts, including acoustic and satellite telemetry, underwater camera traps (BRUVS), photo-identification, and diving surveys to better our understanding and ultimately conserve our local shark population on top of the coastal shelf as well as down to 2,000 m/6,500 ft of depth.
1 When section 33 of the National Conservation Act, 2013, came into force providing complete protection for all sharks at all times in all Cayman waters. 2 Scottish NGO and partner of DoE’s shark research
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