Remote camera traps have become new best friend of conservationists the world over. These cameras have helped discover many new findings about species on land and now scientists have taken the cameras underwater to find more about marine species starting with the Caribbean reef sharks.
According to a new study published in the journal PlosOne, Marine biologists have used camera traps to study the population of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii) in Belize’s protected areas versus fishing areas. The study conducted between 2005- 2010 found that the sharks benefitted greatly from the protection areas.
Demian Chapman, leader of the research team and assistant director of science of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University said,
“Scientists who study tigers or jaguars in the wild use camera traps to count them. It is just as difficult to count sharks in the ocean, so we took a page from the big cat researchers’ playbook and deployed baited video cameras to count the sharks.”
“It’s only fitting since these large apex predators are the ‘big cats’ of the sea, and like their feline counterparts, their continued existence on Earth is threatened.”
The scientists put ‘chum cams’ in Glober’s Reef and Caye Caulker, two protected areas in Belize and also in two fishing reefs. They found that sharks were more prominent in protected areas.
“This study now presents visual proof that large, active sharks are also dramatically more abundant inside these protected areas, too,” said Mark Bond, lead author and doctoral student at Institute for Ocean Conservation Science. “Nearly four times as many chum cam deployments in the marine reserves recorded reef sharks than on similar fished reefs. These areas provide the sharks and other coral reef species a respite from fishing, which means decreased fishing mortality for the sharks and more prey for them to eat.”
The researchers also tagged 34 reef sharks with acoustic transmitters and found that many of them preferred to live in protected areas throughout the year.
As per the IUCN the reef shark is near threatened and it is repeatedly caught in fishing nets as a bycatch.
“Our study demonstrates that marine reserves can help protect shark species that live on coral reefs. Moreover, the use of underwater video monitoring provides us with an excellent tool to determine if populations are recovering and thriving inside these reserves,” concludes co-athor Ellen K. Pikitch, theexecutive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.
Camera traps are definitely proving to be a valuable aid in species conservation.