Sharks are disappearing from our oceans in alarming numbers. About one quarter of the world’s sharks, rays and skates are threatened with extinction. The lack of comprehensive and up-to-date data on species abundance and distribution hinders efforts to protect and replenish these important and dynamic marine animals.
With funding from Paul G. Allen, the Global FinPrint initiative is a three-year survey of sharks and rays in coral reef ecosystems. The survey is the largest of its kind and is designed to provide data essential to building effective conservation programs. Global FinPrint is one of several initiatives within Allen’s portfolio of ocean health programs. It kicks off this month with three years of underwater surveys and data aggregation conducted by a multi-institutional team led by Dr. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University.
“A recent IUCN report indicated that we don’t have the data we need to accurately assess the current population status for almost half of shark and ray species,” said Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropy at Vulcan Inc. “Results from Global FinPrint will provide critical trend analyses and establish baselines in places that have never before been systematically assessed. This information will help inform more effective conservation efforts.”
“Global FinPrint will help us better understand one of the ocean’s great mysteries: What is happening with fragile marine ecosystems when sharks are removed?” said Dr. Chapman. “Are coral reefs healthier or faster to recover from disturbances like coral bleaching or hurricanes because they have sharks? These are hugely important questions. Many countries rely on healthy coral reefs for food security, tourism and coastal protection.”
Five other leading shark conservation researchers will collaborate on the Global FinPrint initiative, including Dr. Mike Heithaus, Florida International University; Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University and IUCN Shark Specialist Group Co-Chair; and Drs. Michelle Heupel, Aaron MacNeil and Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science.
The survey portion of the Global FinPrint initiative will use baited remote underwater video (BRUVs) to survey sharks, rays and other marine life in coral reef ecosystems in more than 400 locations across three key geographic regions where data gaps exist: Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands. The new data will be consolidated with thousands of hours of existing BRUV data to form a single dataset for analysis to produce the first global standardized survey of shark, ray and skates in coral reef environments.
Survey data will be made available through an open-access database platform created by Vulcan’s technology development team and will include information on species density, habitats and diversity trends. Researchers, policy makers, governments and others will be able use this database to help inform conservation priorities, such as identifying and protecting areas with large or important shark populations, and to better understand the ecological importance of sharks as apex predators.