IN THE LAST COUPLE MONTHS WITH OCEAN DAY AND SHARK WEEK WE HAVE BEEN AS BUSY AS EVER! IT HAS ALSO COME TO OUR ATTENTION THAT A LOT OF OUR PARTNERS, COLLEGUES AND SUPPORTERS ARE NOT FULLY AWARE OF THE RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION INITIATIVES THAT THE SHARK & MARINE RESEARCH INSTITUTE RUNS AND SUPPORTS. THIS BLOG HAS BEEN DEDICATED TO GIVING A BRIEF BUT COMPREHENSIVE EXPLANATION OF OUR AIMS AND OBJECTIVES.
The Shark & Marine Research Institute was founded for three key reasons:
- TO CARRY OUT RESEARCH – on our sharks and marine environment, with the ultimate aim of protecting the health and vitality of our ocean and its creatures.
- TO IMPART EDUCATION – to local communities, particularly scholars and other youngsters, who hold the key to our future in their hands.
- TO SUPPORT CONSERVATION – of our Great White Sharks, as well as our oceans in general.
We believe that collaboration is vital to carrying out meaningful research and gathering essential baseline data on our Great Whites and other endangered and data deficient species.
We collaborate with various partner organisations to provide vital research on our sharks, other sea creatures and greater marine environment.
In the past couple of years we have helped to fund and collaborated with the University Of Stellenbosch and the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC). Our research also contributes to a national database compiled by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs Oceans and Coasts (DEA) and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
Our University of Stellenbosch collaboration has been of particular importance to us in recent years. An unprecedented five-year study carried out by Dr Sara Andreotti from the Evolutionary Genomics Group revealed some alarming findings. Photo ID research conducted and genetic samples indicated that the numbers of Great White Sharks inhabiting the South African coastline are as low as between 353 and 522. This further highlights the importance of protecting these magnificent apex predators that are at the top of the marine food chain and thus crucial to the health of our oceans. We continue to support Dr Andreotti’s Great White Dorsal Fin ID programme by taking photos of Great White dorsal fins while on board our cage diving vessel. Our volunteers are integrally involved in this process – they are trained in the photographic method by our marine biologist/programme leader and their photos directly contribute to this initiative.
In addition to helping with the above study on great white sharks, we have also been contributing to genetic studies on the smaller shark species in the area, many of which are endemic and data deficient. We collect genetic samples from a variety of species, all of which go to the Department of Genetics at the University of Stellenbosch. Our samples are contributing towards a number of studies conducted by various students at Stellenbosch such as PhD candidate Kat Gledhill who has recently been analysing the genetics of our shy shark species and beautiful leopard catshark.
We have also helped fund and raise awareness of the SHARK SAFE BARRIER, developed by Dr Craig O’Connell from the University of Masachussetts, Dr Conrad Matthee and Dr Sara Andreotti from the University of Stellenbosch and Mike Rutzen from fellow cage-diving company Shark Diving Unlimited. The Sharksafe Barrier is an eco-friendly alternative to beach nets and drum lines that have considerably contributed towards the devastation of our shark populations. In the period between 1997 to 2007, our beach nets and drumlines caught over 1000 great white sharks and have thus removed a significant proportion of our population. Sadly, they do not only pose a threat to our sharks but all other marine life as well. 100% success rate during testing has proven that this eco-friendly barrier will be a great way forward in providing safe bathing and surfing areas for beach goers, whilst also protecting marine life at the same time, and we sincerely hope to see our government implent it within the next couple of years.
The Shark and Marine Research Institute has its own research vessel and unique research permit issued by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans and Coasts) and the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Most shark cage diving vessels in South Africa are restricted to certain areas and coordinates, but our Shark and Marine Research Institute vessel permit is not restricted to either remaining within these areas or studying only Great White Sharks.
We are permitted to catch and release various shark species to tag them and collect DNA samples, including copper sharks, shy sharks, pyjama sharks, smoothhound sharks, leopard cat sharks, seven gill sharks and others. We are also permitted to attract Great White Sharks to the boat so we can take observational data for our ongoing dorsal fin identification project, to help monitor their population numbers. Seeing them from a 6m vessel is an incredible experience – up close and personal! Our research students and volunteers have come from all over the world, but the days spent on these activities have proved to be an outstanding and unforgettable experience for all of them!
We firmly believe that changing the mindset of our youth is crucial to the conservation of our oceans and coastline. They hold the key to a sustainable future in their hands.
For the time being, we have focused our energy in our area and are working on changing entrenched perceptions towards sharks amongst youngsters, fishermen and the wider community in Gansbaai and its surrounds.
Our marine biologist holds a weekly workshop for the local Gansbaai Academia School’s Marine Science Club. These lectures undertake to educate the students about the vulnerability of our delicate marine ecosystem and the importance of sustaining it.
We also provide these students with pro bono educational trips aboard our affiliate shark cage diving vessel, courtesy of White Shark Diving Company and staff.
Our programme is strongly focused on long-term conservation of our sharks and oceans via the general mediums of research and education, as well as the specific initiatives outlined above. Further to this we do regular beach and harbour clean-up days in collaboration with 7Seasrope, a company that transforms recycled fishing line into bracelets that are sold nationally.
The Shark & Marine Research is highly dependent on its supporters White Shark Diving Company and The Endangered Activist, and you the public – please see our DONATE page if you would like to support and contribute towards our efforts.
Your donations help us to reach our targets in running our existing programmes, as well as buying vital field work equipment necessary to carry out groundbreaking projects that we wish to commence! We would like to extend our gratitude to all that have helped with their financial support in the past and those that will support us in the future.
The SMRI team