Out of the congress and into the ocean – our tiger shark adventure begins

by ZSL on

A few days ago I was at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, debating how much of the ocean we should be aiming to protect. Is the current target to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 enough? We at Great British Oceans don’t think so. Like most others at the World Parks Congress, including scientists, conservationists, managers, politicians and some governments, we want to see a much more ambitious target to protect 30% of the world’s oceans within highly protected marine reserves by 2030.

But where should these protected areas be? As well as getting better at protecting the areas we already know about, we’ve got a lot of work to do to identify the important areas we don’t yet know about.

Watamu on the Kenyan coast
Watamu on the Kenyan coast

And that’s one of the reasons why I’m now here in Watamu on the Kenyan coast. Thanks to funding from our Project Ocean partnership with Selfridges, and some additional support from the Guy Harvey Institute, we have teamed up with CORDIO East Africa and the University of Windsor in Canada to begin a brand new project in the Western Indian Ocean… tracking tiger sharks.

Despite their fearsome reputation, very little is known about the movement of tiger sharks in the Western Indian Ocean – in fact no studies have been done to date to track them in this region. But why does that matter and why do we care?

Like many species of shark, tiger sharks play a key ecological role as apex predators, and because they are slow growing and long-lived are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

So that we can better protect tiger sharks – and the ecosystems they are part of – we need to understand where they are, where they go and what key habitat areas they depend upon. And that’s where we need to turn to satellite technology.

The impressive tiger shark
The impressive tiger shark

With the help of local sports fisherman, Pete Darnborough, who has over 40 years of experience fishing off the coast of Watamu, we’ll be attempting to attach satellite ‘SPOT’ tags to seven tiger sharks.

We know from anecdotal evidence that tiger sharks aggregate in this region – but we don’t know where they come from or where they go. Putting satellite tags on these large, charismatic animals will allow us to track their movements for anything up to one to two years. And the information relayed via the tags will improve our understanding of these tiger sharks’ migratory patterns, how they use their environment, and importantly, will help us to identify critical areas for protection.

Tomorrow is our first day on the boat with Pete. We have ten days in total to deploy seven tags (all costing around £1,000 each). Now we just have to cross our fingers that we’re lucky enough to catch seven sharks over the course of the next ten days and that the tags don’t fail us. The pressure is on...

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