According to SOS grantee Edita Magileviciute, the recent in-water survey of sharks in Maio, one of the islands of Cape Verde archipelago, confirmed presence of nurse and lemon sharks. Moreover, there is a high potential that the coastal waters of Maio are sharks’ breeding ground.
Emailing SOS from her base in Maio, Edita, Marine Programme Manager with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), an IUCN Member, describes this discovery as extraordinary. “These surveys represent the first concerted in-water efforts to assess the abundance and hotspots of sharks. By confirming the presence of these sharks species to the Maio Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) we ensure they are fully protected”.
In West Africa, as a result of uncontrolled fishing 35% of shark and ray species are globally threatened. Cape Verde is the only country in the region where shark species are not fully exploited by fishers searching for lucrative fins. This, however, makes Cape Verde waters a very attractive target to fishers striving to meet a growing demand for shark products. High unemployment drives communities to the ocean to seek sources of livelihood. There is very little local awareness of the contribution sharks make to ecosystem balance.
FFI aims to track a shift in perception from ignorance to interest and curiosity, and eventually understanding and respect for sharks. Usually it takes long time for conservationists to build a genuine trust with communities and especially with fishers when it relates to the marine resources on which they depend for their livelihoods.
Edita recounts two meetings (the first introductory meeting and a second, an educational workshop) with local fishers in a village of Caletha. These interactions brought amazing results engaging fishers and raising awareness.
“Our first introductory meeting with local fishermen was held on the beach under a tree where fishers gather and socialize after work. We brought locally made chocolate cookies and sodas to break the ice and get the conversations flowing. In the beginning all the fishermen were somewhat reluctant to talk and voice their feelings. They started showing their interest in the moment we presented the shark ID guide. The ID guide triggered to tell their stories how they encountered these different shark species. We were keen to find out if the shark were seen to interfere with their fishing methods.
Most of the information came from the older and more experienced fishermen who had the most shark encounters. After two hours of talking we had a great amount of information. This meeting was crucial in building a mutual understanding and trust. We invited the fishers to the educational workshop a week later in Caletha.
We were very excited to see that many locals came to participate in the workshop. The presentation was given by local fisher Nivaldo who is currently undertaking an internship with FFI’s local partner on Maio, FMB. Nivaldo knew how to convey information to his own community and his presence and commitment was vital to workshop success.
Besides presenting information about shark biology and ecology we also used two videos with Nivaldo’s live commentary and this method really engaged the fishers. We explained why it is important to make an assessment of the different species as quickly as possible to prevent possible local extinction and further degradation of the ecosystem.
We introduced the idea of the fishermen gathering data through a simple sighting sheet, and gave training on how to record the shark sightings including species identification, length and behavior of an animal. They were impressed with the ID guides and agreed to help with gathering the data.
Just two weeks after the distribution of the sightings sheets the first data started coming in! Fishers reported black tip reef sharks, nurse and lemon sharks and even whale shark sightings on the west side of Maio island. A really fantastic result so early on in the project!
I strongly believe that one day this area will be declared the first shark sanctuary in Cape Verde”.