Throughout the month of April 2012, you have the opportunity to help celebrate and record Fiji’s amazing coral reef biodiversity, show you care about our world’s delicate coral reef systems, and have fun, by taking part in the FIRST FIJI-WIDE SHARK COUNT at Matava.
Easy to do, this is suitable for visitors and locals alike, whether you like to fish, snorkel, or SCUBA dive. We hope that tourists, school children, scientists and all people with an interest in the marine environment will take to the reefs with us to search for the Sharks of Fiji!
It is estimated that globally as many as 73 million sharks are killed every year, and that shark populations have dropped by 70- 80% over the past few years. This is due to commercial fishing for sharks, most of which are thrown away once their fins have been sliced off for sale for shark fin soup.
However it is very hard to collect this data – because sharks normally spread out along the reefs in deep offshore waters, only a few are seen at any time, and normal fish counting techniques which count numbers of fish in a measured area cannot pick up enough sharks to make realistic assessments of populations.
This is where “Citizen Science“ comes into its own; by having many eyes on many reefs, we can collect data from hundreds of observers all across Fiji, and create the first real picture of which sharks live where, and get an idea of real shark numbers.
After sharks have been given protection, future shark counts will be used to record how successful it is in restoring shark stocks.
Getting real data on shark populations is vital for proper management, and The Great Fiji Shark Count is a very important part of getting this data, both for work in Fiji and also to supply information to global surveys.
This is the Great Fiji SHARK Count; why are we counting Rays and Turtles?
Sharks and rays are very close cousins; indeed, Angel Sharks or Guitarfish look as though they are half way between the two.
Rays suffer from the same overfishing pressures as sharks, and their flesh is often used as fake “scallops” and in “crab sticks”.
Including rays in with their cousins the sharks will provide data on these species about which very little is known.
In Fiji, the law protects turtles and makes fishing for them without a permit illegal, and it is totally illegal to catch turtles even with a permit during their nesting season (November to February). Turtles are tagged and nesting beaches recorded to gather more data to see whether these protective measures are working, but there is very little data about where they live and feed underwater.
When you are counting sharks, you are going to be looking for large animals swimming just off the reef and out in deep water.
This is exactly where you are most likely to see turtles, so by recording them as well as sharks, we can give data to agencies working with turtle protection in Fiji.