Shark sighting! Mark it down. Sharkloggers Get to Know Cayman’s Sharks to Help Protect Them
Dive operators assist Shark Conservation Cayman, a local and international initiative to understand and protect local shark population
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands (April 23, 2018) - As they roam the reefs in their natural habitat, the resident sharks of the Cayman Islands, are being observed year-round and their actions are being recorded by a established network of sharkloggers —local divers, snorkelers and divemasters on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Sharkloggers record shark sightings during a dive, note the location, time and species. Their findings are submitted to the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), which uses the data to better understand shark behavior in Cayman. This understanding will be used to develop an action plan to manage and protect Cayman’s shark population — the initiative is called Shark Conservation Cayman.
"Sharks top most divers wish lists when asked what they would like to see on a dive, and seeing one is always the highlight of their trip,” said Steve Broadbelt, co-owner of Ocean Frontiers at East End. “The best dive trip for our guests to see sharks and other big critters, such as turtles, is our X-Dive. We ask all our divers to submit their photos to help log and track shark activity for this study."
“As ambassadors of the underwater aquatic environment we are in a unique position to be able to monitor the shark numbers and dive sites they are seen at on a day to day basis. We are able to notice short-term or long-term changes,” said James Dudley of Tortuga Divers also at East End, where resident sharks are sighted daily, and have even earned names from local divers.
“Burt & Ernie are usually found at one particular dive site. Smudge, Scarlet and Big Bertha at another area,” said John Buckley, a frequent diver at East End. “The sharks are inquisitive and will literally swim right up to you, swim amongst groups of divers, swim thru tunnels, canyons, and they come back around for more!”
“In 2017 the shark-loggers logged 9615 dives and 1880 shark sightings,” said Johanna Kohler, a marine scientist with the Department of Environment, and program manager. “The information gathered complements the database from our surveys and acoustic tags.”
Since 2008, DOE has partnered with Marine Conservation International to study Cayman’s sharks, with assistance from various funding sources and the support of local dive operators. In 2015 the Cayman Islands government granted full protection to all sharks in Cayman waters and created Marine Protected Areas on all three islands. But at Ocean Frontiers located near shark habitats at East End, shark monitoring has been going on for a longer period of time.
"Ocean Frontiers has been working with shark scientists studying our resident population of Reef Sharks for 17 years. Most recently, we have also been working with the Save Our Seas Foundation to tag and track these sharks to gain a better understanding of their seasonal behavior,” said Steve Broadbelt.
Because sharks are at the top of the food chain, they play a critical role in maintaining the balance of a reef ecosystem by keeping other fish populations in check. Research shows that shark populations around the world have declined and this negatively impacts their local reef habitat. Shark Conservation Cayman studies so far indicate Cayman’s shark population is present, although lower than expected.
“Thanks to the sharklogger’s efforts over the past two years, we were able to confirm and discover patterns, in terms of abundance and behavior, of sharks in Cayman. Ultimately, this helps our scientists to better understand and monitor our sharks,” said Ms. Kohler.
The statistics show that Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks are the most common species spotted in Cayman waters. Other sharks include tiger sharks, black tips and hammerheads, but they are rare. Johanna Kohler says so far, they’ve learned that most shark species spotted around Cayman are classified as “near threatened” (IUCN Red List), and some sharks travel not only between areas of one island, but also between the three Cayman Islands.
They are also gaining insights into the following:
· Habitat utilization by shark species
· Demographic structure
· Home ranges of individual sharks
· Relative abundance of shark species between survey areas
· Seasonal behavior of shark species
Ms. Kohler hopes the program raises awareness and educates people about the importance of sharks to Cayman’s reef ecosystems, which are a main tourist attraction. The tourism industry provides livelihoods to many Caymanians and residents of the Cayman Islands. The Department of Environment plans to expand its Sharklogger network to continue scientific monitoring surveys, as well as additional research, such as mating, pupping behavior and long-distance travel. Steve Broadbelt and James Dudley say count them and their teams in for continued study.
“As divers we are keen to ensure that sharks are protected and above all look out for their welfare. Ultimately the staff and myself understand the importance of sharks in the ocean environment and are happy to help out with any study to ensure that this occurs,” said James Dudley.
For information on the shark logging program contact email@example.com.
The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset House in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean. Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer
Media Contact: Adela Gonzales White at Adela.G.White@comcast.net.