Over the last few years, Mission Blue has been active in different parts of the world, specifically in the Gulf of California Hope Spot and the Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot working with local partners to document and address two of the most damaging human impacts on shark population: finning and overfishing. We have highlighted the work of local science teams, such as Pelagios Kakunja, that are using radio telemetry to track shark populations to better understand their migratory corridors. At Cocos Island, in the Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot, we met with a local shark conservationist to learn and share information about shark finning in Costa Rica. We also highlighted the ocean conservation efforts to change policy in Costa Rica and on the international stage to better protect these highly migratory animals. Through expeditions in 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2017, Dr. Earle and the Mission Blue team have developed close ties to community groups and policymakers in the Gulf of California with support from partners including the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, A.C. (FMCN). We look forward to continuing to shine a light on the beauty and value of this rich ecosystem and those who are working to protect it.
Our work underscores the reality that shark populations move between marine protected areas, and while protecting congregation sites is critical, there is a conservation imperative to look at the migratory corridors that connect these hotspots and push for official protection.
The Mission Blue Shark Conference
Mission Blue united a conference of organizations and individuals motivated to discuss approaches to curbing the overfishing of sharks in the Eastern Pacific and Gulf of California. The conference, which was co-organized by Mission Blue and Pelagios Kakunjá and partially sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, took place in La Paz on October 26th and 27th, 2017. The goal of the conference was to raise awareness among decision-makers at local and federal levels about the ecological importance of the Revillagigedo Islands, the Gulf of California, and the migratory corridors that link shark species.
At the conference, we discussed areas of activism including current challenges and status of shark populations in the Gulf of California, migratory swimways in the Gulf of California and Eastern Tropical Pacific, ways to change the demand for shark fins and their unsustainable harvesting, and developing shark sanctuaries and no-take zones in the Mexican Pacific.
Shark Finning at Cocos Island, Costa Rica: Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot
The Mission Blue team went to World Heritage Site Cocos Islands twice in 2015 and again in 2017 for a special trip focusing on finding and tagging sharks including tiger, silky, Galápagos and whitetip reef sharks. Led by Mission Blue founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Director of Expeditions and Photography, Kip Evans, we worked closely with scientists to learn more about the movement and conservation status of these apex predators. Threats of overfishing, especially long lining, still pose a serious concern to sharks and other marine life here.
On our 2017 expedition to Cocos Island, we sat down with Randall Arauz, a lifelong marine conservationist and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2010 for his efforts for the protection of the sharks and banning of the shark finning industry in Costa Rica. He shared some facts with us about the issues sharks face here.
“Shark finning is a global issue and it started in the ’80s when the long line explosion happened throughout the world and the fishermen saw that they could make a fortune off of shark fins”, Arauz explained.
He continued by describing that this phenomenon has been happening all over the world for decades. Shark finning is a huge, multimillion-dollar operation with tentacles in several countries including Taiwan, Spain, Mexico and Ecuador. Arauz went on to elaborate on how Fins International is making moves to protect sharks here.
“What we do is expose the situation, take the government to court, appeal to public opinion and ultimately try to avert this travesty that is occurring now in Costa Rica. Think about it: Costa Rica, the global conservation nation… and we’re also the shark finning nation and one that violates international conventions on endangered species.”
Read the rest of our interview with Randall Arauz in Shark Finning Primer With a Lifelong Activist-Conservationist.
Learn more about our expedition to Cocos Island in the Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot here.
Illegal Shark Fishing and Finning: Gulf of California Hope Spot
In 2009, Dr. Earle named the Gulf of California one of her top Hope Spots and vowed to help bring attention and support to the region. In 2016, Dr. Earle and the Mission Blue Expedition team went to Cabo Pulmo, in the Gulf of California Hope Spot to witness firsthand how deeply threatened the sharks are there by local fishermen. Unfortunately, the team was greeted by a dismal sight as we arrived at Bahia Los Frailes in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park: strewn across the beach were the hacked carcasses of approximately 20 sharks of several species. Sitting on the sand was a box full of shark fins, no doubt destined for Asian markets. The issue of shark fishing is complex, on both a conservation and social level. See it firsthand in the video below.
How can shark slaughter happen in a marine park that is purportedly “no-take”? Carlos Ramon Godinez Reyes, Director of the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park (CONANP), was with us and questioned the fishermen. They produced a permit and asserted that these sharks had been fished outside of the prohibited boundaries of the park. But how could this be verified? It couldn’t. The annual operating budget of the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park is roughly $20,000, according to Mr. Godinez Reyes, making comprehensive enforcement all the more challenging.
Despite continuous challenges to protect the area’s sharks, Dr. Earle explains that the protection granted through the Marine Park has been helping.
Dr. Earle continues, “When I was here a couple of years ago, making the film Mission Blue, we went diving with that great whirlpool of jacks and saw the great golden grouper and the other fish that have repopulated the area that is under protection. Then we went down the coast just a few miles and it was totally different. Inside there was like paradise and outside well, you just wonder where are all the fish?
Diving now in Cabo Pulmo is almost like diving into the ocean as it was 50 years ago.
It’s not the way it was, but it is a lot better than it otherwise would be. Protection really works. And it’s an idea that is beginning to catch on around the world. One little island country has established an MPA around the whole island, out 200 miles. They have stopped killing sharks, they’ve stopped killing tuna, they’ve stopped killing grouper, they have stopped the killing. Within 20 miles where people still maintain livelihoods and gather food for their families, managed fishing occurs. But it is surrounded by a blue halo of protection that is enormous. And it is working.”
Learn more about Mission Blue’s shark conservation work in the Gulf of California in Dr. Sylvia Earle Holds Up Cabo Pulmo as Model to the World.
Dive into the Gulf of California Hope Spot expedition here.
Shark Tagging With Radio Telemetry: Why It Matters
Marine protected areas are proven to be tremendously helpful in allowing for threatened marine species to replenish their numbers with reduced stress from human activities. However, much like many land animal species, sharks don’t stay in one place! Shark migration patterns are an under-explored, albeit important phenomenon.
Shark tagging in Cocos Island began in 2005, with the first ever tagging of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Since then, a great deal of data has been collected and analyzed, and several organizations are hard at work to push for greater protection for sharks through the distance and scope of their migration patterns, or “corridors”. Mission Blue Director of Expeditions and Photography, Kip Evans explains, “tracking sharks around Cocos Island has been extremely important work for the continued protection of this World Heritage site. Beyond Cocos, we have been collaborating with other researchers in the Eastern Pacific from Colombia and the Galápagos Islands. By using the same technology, sharks have been tracked moving between these three locations. This region has been given the name of the “Triangle” with sharks using corridors to move between the islands.”
There’s often protected areas on either ends of these corridors, but official protection of sharks within the corridors is key to providing more thorough protection from poaching.
Mission Blue partner MigraMar uses both acoustic and satellite equipment to track thousands of sharks across several species in their migratory routes along the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, which stretches from the Gulf of California down to South America. MigraMar uses the data collected in their research to provide technical advice for national, regional and international marine resource management agencies, with the aim of establishing a common working framework to carry out joint actions that will in turn, protect sharks and several other species across international waters.
Organizations like Pelagios Kakunja in Mexico are using a technology called radio telemetry to track sharks’ migration patterns, with the goal of pushing for policy change to protect sharks and other species in their region. With substantial data comes the ability to enact improved, uniform policies that can better meet the needs of the threatened shark species not only in Mexico, but around the entire globe.