Reef shark in Turks and Caicos

Vital Caribbean shark population to be better protected

2 minute read

Erin O'Neill

25 Jun 2021

We’re delighted to announce that we’ll be part of a new project funded by the UK Government which will be protecting shark populations in the Caribbean.

The Marine Conservation Society will be working directly with organisations in both the Caribbean and the UK to ensure that local shark populations are protected in the waters around Anguilla, one of the UK’s overseas territories.

Thanks to a grant awarded by the UK Government's Darwin Plus initiative, which provides vital funding in overseas territories, work will be carried out to better understand shark populations around these East Caribbean islands.

As apex predators, the sharks sit at the top of the food chain, and play a critical role in marine ecosystem recovery and resilience.

Amdeep Sanghera, UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have received vital Darwin Plus funding for this exciting project.

“By undertaking the first ever assessments of sharks in Anguilla, we’ll better understand the status of these keystone predators.”

Amdeep goes on to explain why the work is so critical: “Atlantic shark populations have declined by as much as 90% in recent decades, including in the Caribbean region which is home to at least 40 shark species.

“By undertaking the first ever assessments of sharks in Anguilla, we’ll better understand the status of these keystone predators.”

Amdeep Sanghera, UKOT Conservation Officer, Marine Conservation Society

“This project will develop priority conservation actions to support conservation of Anguilla’s shark populations, with local communities fully engaged in creating these solutions.”

Working alongside the Anguilla National Trust and the Government of Anguilla’s Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit, scientific aspects of the project will be guided by University of Exeter’s Dr Matt Witt who is an Associate Professor in Natural Environment.

The programme will include deploying baited remote underwater cameras (BRUVs) in shallow and deep-water habitats to support the first ever ecological shark assessment in Anguilla.

“We will offer our expertise in underwater camera systems to improve knowledge for these incredibly important, but often much maligned, species,” Dr Matt Witt, University of Exeter explained.

Anguilla fishermen

Fishing boats in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of the Anguillan islands

Credit: Steve Adams via Unsplash

An international collaboration

The Marine Conservation Society will use their successful Community Voice Method of engagement and, working in partnership with the Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit in Anguilla will work directly with the local community to understand how they live alongside the sharks, and to ensure that those who live and work around the islands have their opinions included in the project.

The collaboration between local residents and government departments, and UK scientists and the Marine Conservation Society will be central to the drafting of a national shark Species Action Plan to safeguard these invaluable creatures for generations to come.

“This is the first time that we’ll be partnering with MCS and the University of Exeter,” said Farah Mukhida, Executive Director, Anguilla National Trust .

“With their extensive experience, expertise, and commitment to evidence-based marine conservation, we’re looking forward to developing local capacity as we work together with the Government of Anguilla to conserve some of the world’s most misunderstood and feared species. An assessment of Anguilla’s shark species populations, and Anguillians’ attitudes towards sharks has been missing and it’s a much needed area of research.”

“With fear of sharks still widespread today, a need exists to sensitise the Anguillan public on this matter. Fisheries Unit is happy to be a part of this project, and looks forward to engaging all stakeholders to assist with changing people’s attitudes towards shark conservation” Kafi Gumbs, Director, Fisheries and Marine Resources Unit, said.

Learn more about our work in the UK Overseas Territories

Learn more about our international work