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Marine Life & Conservation

First study of Zebra Sharks in Africa reveals new hotspot in need of protection

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A new study by Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), in collaboration with Swansea University and All Out Africa, is the first to describe a population of endangered zebra sharks (also commonly called leopard sharks) in Africa. The study reveals a key global hotspot and potential breeding area. Based on these findings, scientists recommend species-level protection and expansion of marine protected areas, to safeguard this charismatic species.

The study used structured underwater surveys and identification photos submitted by scuba diver “citizen scientists” to track individual sharks. Additionally, interviews with 100 local fishermen were used to identify potential zebra shark habitats, who are unfortunately most likely to encounter the animals as bycatch in gillnets. Information from underwater surveys created similar distribution maps and habitat modeling also identified new possible hotspot locations that merit future underwater surveys.

Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.

Lead author, Saoirse Pottie explains, “This study adds credibility to using a multi-faceted approach to collect baseline data for marine species. When used in combination, fishers’ observations and dive surveys can complement each other. Fisher surveys can collect sightings information at a wider spatial scale than underwater surveys, yet dive surveys are capable of providing more in-depth information on the movement and behavior of individuals.”

The authors hope to inspire other researchers working in data-deficient locations. “This approach could be applied in other regions to highlight areas of interest, prioritize research activities, and inform conservation actions. The inclusion of local knowledge also provides an opportunity to enrich our understanding of social-ecological systems, engage local communities, and make environmental decisions that are more inclusive,” continues Pottie.

Photos taken by scientists and recreational scuba divers between 2010 and 2018 identified 90 individual sharks of both sexes. 38% of sharks were seen in multiple years, indicating an affinity for the area. Over 62% of the sharks were mature. The high frequency of both male and female adult sharks in a small area indicates a breeding area, which is a prime habitat for protection.

Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.

While zebra sharks are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, they lack formal protection in Mozambique, and the majority of the suitable zebra shark habitat identified in this study remains unprotected. According to co-author Anna Flam, an MMF scientist, “This is one of the world’s largest identified populations of zebra sharks and we should protect them, otherwise, we could see them disappear, as has happened in parts of Southeast Asia.”

Recreational scuba divers also assisted in data collection. Zebra sharks have unique spot patterns that can be used to identify individuals and track them over time. Identification photos contributed by scuba divers allowed researchers to increase the scope of data capture. Over the course of this study, the researchers helped create the Wildbook for Leopard Sharks, a global online database that allows scuba divers to submit their photos to support research around the world.

Click here to read the full study published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management.

For more information about the Marine Megafauna Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Staci-lee Sherwood about how light pollution in Florida is harming sea turtle hatchlings (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Staci-lee Sherwood, Founder & Former Director of S.T.A.R.S – Sea Turtle Awareness Rescue Stranding – about Florida’s latest assault on sea turtles and why the global community should be concerned.

You can read more about this issue in a blog written by Staci-lee on Scubaverse here.

Find out more about Staci-lee on Instagram and YouTube @realitycheckswithstacilee


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Marine Biologist, Underwater Photographer and Author Paul Naylor (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Naylor about his new book Great British Marine Animals (4th Edition). You can read Jeff’s review of the book here.

Paul is a marine biologist and underwater photographer with a passion for showing people what beautiful and fascinating animals live around the British coast, through articles, talks, films, social media and TV, as well as his latest book.

The creatures’ intriguing behaviour and colourful life stories are the particular focus of his still photography and video, both for scientific research and engaging audiences.

Paul works with conservation organisations and the media to raise the profile of our wonderful marine life and the importance of caring for our seas.

Find out more about Paul and his work at www.marinephoto.co.uk


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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