Posts Tagged ‘Dr Mahmood Shivji’

Jun 30, 2011

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Donates $100,000 to Guy Harvey Research Institute at NSU

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation recently presented a $100,000 donation to the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University during a ceremony at the new Guy Harvey Inc. world headquarters in Davie, FL. A significant part of these funds were raised from the sale of Guy Harvey sportswear.  You may not know this, but you, the Guy Harvey customer helped provide these funds with your last Guy Harvey clothing purchase. Money is raised for ocean conservation efforts from the sale of every Guy Harvey shirt, Guy Harvey sandal, Guy Harvey hat, Guy Harvey belt, Guy Harvey jacket and all Guy Harvey clothing items.  This $100,000 will be used to support the ongoing fishery research projects at the GHRI.


Photo, from left to right: Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute; Guy Harvey; Dr. George Hanbury II, President & COO of NSU; Steve Stock, President of Guy Harvey Inc. and the GHOF; John Santulli, VP Facilities Management, NSU; Dr. Richard Dodge, Dean of NSU’s Oceanographic Center

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Apr 22, 2011

The Lovely Menace: Invasion of the Lionfish

The colorful and charismatic lionfish are proliferating on the coral reefs of Bermuda, Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. Although non-native to the Atlantic, it’s becoming hard to miss them in many areas.  That’s good, you might be thinking.  Divers spend a lot of money to travel to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific where these fishes are native and provide visual delights for underwater photographers.  Whip out those cameras — an added attraction has shown up to add zing to the diving experience on Atlantic coral reefs, you say.

Unfortunately, like most invasive species scenarios – recall the ecological and economic mess created by the infamous zebra mussel – the lionfish introduction and rapid geographic spread is proving far from ecologically harmless to Atlantic coral reefs.  In fact, scientists are quite concerned that lionfish may be completely reinventing the western north Atlantic coral reef ecosystem – permanently!

What are these lionfish doing in the Atlantic in the first place and what’s going on?  Here’s some background: Lionfish belong to the scorpionfish family (which includes the venomous scorpionfish and stonefish).  Even if you don’t dive you’ve likely seen them as they are very popular in the aquarium trade.

Two species are now known to occur in the western Atlantic: the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) and the devil firefish (Pterois miles), with the former occurring in much greater numbers.  The two species are similar looking and it took DNA evidence to confirm that there are indeed two species that have invaded the Atlantic.  They’ve been around for a while, with the first observation in the Atlantic occurring near Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1985!  Considered a rarity at first, lionfish populations have exploded over the past 25 years and especially over the past decade, spreading far north and south.  They now range at least from Bermuda to Venezuela.  It’s really worth tracking their remarkable and disconcertingly fast spread at:  If you dive in the Bahamas you’ll know that they are over running the reefs.

So what’s the worry?

Invasive Lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo: Courtesy of B. Watts

It’s an ecological nightmare.  In spite of a mountain of unknowns, researchers agree on a few key points: lionfish are voracious predators and prolific breeders.  They devour the young of other reef fish species, including several commercially important species, and even crustaceans such as newborn lobsters.

In addition to their own direct impact on reducing other fish populations by predation, lionfish are outcompeting native fishes for food.  Not a good scene for native fishes.  Lionfish can suck up about 80% of all small or immature fish in a section of reef in only five weeks.  Their predation on young herbivorous fish also means reduced control of algae, which can overgrow and kill coral.

How bad is it? There are enormous concerns that lionfish will completely change and possibly destroy Atlantic coral reefs by overrunning them and shrinking their native biodiversity, and that the ongoing damage is severe and possibly irreparable.  So far, there is no known quick-fix, and the problem is escalating exponentially.

Lionfish are the lions of the Atlantic reefs; they sit enthroned near the top of the food web where almost nothing eats them.  Scientists don’t fully understand why lionfish have no natural predators in the Atlantic. Observed cases of lionfish being eaten by other fish are so few that they can be counted on one hand. Would-be predators seem to shy away from the lionfish’s poisonous appearance – even when lionfish are in their larval stage. Possibly for this reason, invasive lionfish have encountered practically no natural opposition since their introduction, when the first individuals were probably dumped into the Atlantic as unwanted aquarium pets. Without effective population control, the lionfish – also called the red firefish – spread like, well, wildfire.

It’s easy to see why. Lionfish reach sexual maturity in only about one year. For the rest of their adult lives, female lionfish lay batches of 25,000-30,000 eggs almost twice a week (about every four days). Do the math, and you will quickly discover what this means. Each year, there are easily over two million eggs for each female lionfish. These eggs quickly develop into living vacuum cleaners. Each lionfish eats fish up to two-thirds of its own size, and lionfish stomachs stretch up to thirty times their normal size when feeding.

Ironically, studies are showing that lionfish are now present in higher densities in some Atlantic regions than they are in their native Indo-pacific habitats! Maybe the Atlantic environment is just making female and male lionfish more romantic. Or maybe it’s a lack of predator thing. Or maybe their Atlantic prey have fewer defenses?

So, what can be done? Many scientists think that the rapid pace of lionfish population growth and geographic spread means that nothing can completely stop the destruction by this invading beauty. But perhaps the momentum can be slowed if control measures are quickly and widely implemented.

Lionfish meat is excellent in taste and texture, and lionfish dishes have been added to the menus of many exclusive restaurants. In fact, the US federal government’s chief fisheries management agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign to increase the public’s awareness of the issue and create a consumer market for this tasty invader. Several coastal communities host fishing events called lionfish derbies where prizes go to the anglers who catch the most, and an enormous celebratory barbecue comes at the end of each derby. Many recreational anglers would attest that, after a long day of fishing, grilled lionfish with a cold beer is a hard treat to beat!

These triumphs, however, are small ones. Fishing alone cannot solve the lionfish problem. It will also take both education and dedication. As an increasingly prominent marine “poster child” against non-native species release, the lionfish example further proves that release can have unpredictable, unprecedented, and literally dire consequences. Please never release your exotic pets. A simple desire to let one animal “have a better life” in the wild can so easily create an irreparable ecosystem and economic mess.

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Apr 8, 2011

Tagging Tiger Sharks in Bimini

Mahmood Shivji and Brad Wetherbee attach SPOT tag to tiger while Dr. Sam Gruber secures the shark

I recently joined Dr. Sam Gruber and his staff with the Shark Lab in Bimini to tag tiger sharks. We attached a satellite tag (SPOT -Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting) to the dorsal fin of a 9 foot male tiger shark caught off Bimini. This shark was named after a High School in Nassau called CV Bethel— As I follow up on my address to their assembly and to the ministers of the Bahamian Government. We named this shark after the school so the school children would be able to follow the migrations of “their” shark on a weekly basis. Shortly after we left, Dr. Steven Kessel and the shark Lab crew caught a 10 foot female tiger shark. She, also, had a SPOT attached and is named St. Mary, after another Nassau school. Mahmood Shivji and Brad Wetherbee will shortly be making these tracks available to the respective schools.

In addition, I was accompanied by film producer George Schellenger.  We shot, for the tiger documentary, some amazing sequences with a great hammerhead and some interactions with Caribbean Reef sharks. No authoritative documentary on tiger sharks could be complete without a visit to the Bimini Shark Lab and some wise words from Dr. Gruber, who has worked in Bimini for more than two decades. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is collaborating with the Bimini Shark Lab on a number of new projects.

By the way,the Bimini Big Game Club is looking great and is gearing up for a busy summer. Some mooring balls were being deployed while I was there, and the new restaurant expansion and deck was in full swing. Clients will be able to dine overlooking the crystal clear water below teaming with jacks, tarpon, eagle rays and bonefish.

The big game is definitely ON!

Guy Harvey

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Feb 24, 2011

The Misunderstood Tiger Shark Shows Remarkable Migratory Behavior

The stripy and pug-nosed tiger shark gets little coverage or respect in the world of media shark stories compared to the idolizing attention showered on species such white sharks and whale sharks.  And when they do receive the occasional mention, tiger sharks bear the brunt of disparaging descriptors such as “garbage cans of the sea” just because a few individuals of the many thousands killed around the world have been found with indigestible, man-made objects such as a beer bottle, tin cans, chicken wire in their stomachs.  Tiger sharks do indeed have broad diets and are opportunistic feeders, but the reality is they consume almost entirely their normal prey of fishes, turtles, marine mammals, and even large invertebrates.  The discovery of man-made objects in their diet is rare, and it does a magnificent apex predator injustice to assume tiger sharks make a habit of wandering around near human population centers focused on scooping up our garbage that ends up in the sea.  On the contrary, ongoing research being conducted at the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHRI/GHOF) on tiger shark migrations is shedding new light on how remarkable and environmentally flexible these amazing sharks are.

An important requirement for the proper management and conservation of any shark species is a robust understanding of its migratory patterns, how it uses its environment, and identification of what is termed its “critical habitat” – areas that are key to successful reproduction and feeding.  To understand tiger shark movements and aid in conservation efforts, the GHRI/GHOF in collaboration with the Bermuda Shark Project and with financial support from AFTCO is investigating tiger shark movements in the western North Atlantic in a long-term study.  The sharks’ movements are being studied by employing satellite tags that relay information on where the tiger shark is and/or its depth in the ocean.

 What have we found so far?

Sharks that we outfitted with satellite tags in Bermudian waters are providing exceptional information about their long-term migratory behavior.  We have been fortunate to be able to follow these tiger sharks for a record length of time (12-17 months and counting), and are discovering fascinating information about their seasonal movements.  The migratory tracks of two sharks are shown as examples.  Please visit the GHRI web site: to see long-term tracks for other tiger sharks.

In brief, the sharks left Bermuda in the fall of 2009 as the waters cooled and made notably direct pathways to the Bahamas or Caribbean, where they spent 6-8 months in close association with island habitats.  Then starting in the spring of 2010, the tiger sharks reversed course showing highly directed migrations northwards, moving beyond and often east of Bermuda and staying well out in the open ocean. In two instances, the batteries on the tags have lasted over 17 months and have revealed a consistent migratory pathway back to the Bahamas starting in the fall of 2010.  What is also amazing is that after their pelagic sojourn these sharks have returned to locations in the Bahamas really close to where they were hanging out a year ago!  Who gave them a GPS? 

These migratory patterns makes one wonder what the sharks are doing so far out in the Atlantic Ocean after spending approximately half a year acting like reef sharks tightly associated with island habitats in the Bahamas and Caribbean.  Something must be seasonally attracting these sharks into the deep open-ocean far offshore.  We’re guessing it is not indigestible man-made garbage.  Are they out in nearly the middle of the north Atlantic for 2-4 months for mating? For feeding on migratory prey such as turtles?  It’s still an open question.  Notably, however, these tiger sharks are displaying a remarkable ability to drastically switch their habitats comfortably, using shallow, coral reef environments for part of the year and completely open-ocean, deep environments for the other part with rapid travel in-between.  Few other shark species show this flexibility in the habitats they can use.

Based on these initial but novel findings, we are continuing this study in additional places to get a more detailed picture of tiger shark movements in different parts of the world.  Our hats are off to these stripy, majestic fishes for their astonishing migratory abilities!

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Feb 3, 2011

Tiger Beach Tagging

I used a couple of spare days I had between Christmas and New Year to visit Tiger Beach on Little Bahama Bank and deploy some more SPOTs on tiger sharks. My team went on board the “Shear Water” with Jim Abernathy who has been diving this site for twelve years on a weekly basis. In addition to the tagging team of Dr. Mahmood Shivji (director of the GHRI) and Neil Burnie of the Bermuda Shark Project, we were accompanied by film maker George Schellenger who is in the process of finishing up an exciting and educational documentary featuring Jim, Wyland and myself interacting with the sharks at Tiger Beach.

Both Wyland and I got some great photos of the Tiger Shark on our trip together

Along for the expedition were my son Alexander, who has assisted me in the Bermuda Shark project, but had yet to dive with a tiger. GH staffer Jay Perez also had his first visit to Tiger Beach as did Ollie Dubock an, English PhD student working on sharks in the Cayman Islands.

There were several things to accomplish.  We were able to catch and tag four tiger sharks between 9 and 11 feet long, three females and one male. Most of the tiger sharks we tagged in the last two summers in Bermuda were males. The vast majority of the sharks Jim sees at Tiger Beach are females. We want to find out why there is such a huge difference in the distribution of the sexes. No one knows where tiger sharks breed.

We caught two sharks about 5 miles south of Tiger Beach, one of them at night. The other two were caught at the famous dive site. Jim had checked out these individuals first to make sure they were not one of his “players” or sharks that he sees on a regular basis, and to be sure we wanted to tag the “transient” animals. All sharks were caught on heavy rope and using cable leader and 20/0 circle hooks with the barb filed off. They were handlined into the swim platform and secured on top of the platform with most of their body in the water, breathing normally while Neil deployed the SPOTs in quick time. It took between 7 -10 minutes to tag these huge animals and set them free. Jim and his crew members Jamin, Matt and Brian, were awesome in assisting the catching process and were delighted to be doing something different with these animals. Thanks again team for taking some of your vacation time to assist us with the tagging effort. We were lucky with the weather, and had a successful expedition.

Film maker George Schellenger was busy shooting everything with help from Alex, Jay and me to fill out his own documentary but also shoot more footage for my comprehensive documentary on the natural history of tiger sharks. This is approaching completion and I am just waiting on another cycle of tracks to come in before I can wrap up the story.

George plans to use his documentary to educate the government and people of the Bahamas about the value of a living shark (shark interactive programmes bring over $50 million dollars per year to the country’s economy) and to encourage them not to allow commercial fishing for shark fins by local or foreign companies. Permitting this kind of extraction would annihilate the last strong hold for sharks in the north western Atlantic. This has been the case in so many other countries, but island nations now becoming involved in protection of sharks and promoting shark interactive programmes for tourism and research are having big success stories.

Fish responsibly, dive safely. Happy New Year.  

— Guy Harvey

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Sep 8, 2010

SHARKS — Do We Really Need Them?

For the longest time after the 1975 blockbuster “JAWS” gave us a spine-tingling ride, there was an often used saying that “the only good shark is a dead shark”.  This man- against-beast thriller and its many progeny shark horror flicks still pervade the public’s psyche, anointing all sharks as human-eaters and keeping many beach-goers out of the ocean.

The public and media’s morbid fascination with sharks as killing “machines” continues today. There is a steady stream of media coverage when fishers catch and drag back a large shark for photo-ops.  In some minds, catching and killing a large shark is almost heroic and fashionable, and a testament to man’s superiority in the “battle” against the beast.

Meanwhile, the enormous toll taken on shark numbers worldwide due to indiscriminate fisheries continues unabated.  All this shark killing causes some to wring their hands in anguish about longer-term ecological impacts.  Others say “what’s the big deal if sharks are killed?”

Who’s right?  Should we care if many of the oceans large sharks are exterminated?  Is there really enough of an impact on the marine environment to worry about?

New studies show that sharks also influence the behavior of their prey. Photo credit: B. Watts

It seems intuitively reasonable that sharks, as top-level predators, play an important role in maintaining stability in the ocean’s food chain.  Most people objectively or “in their gut” understand that life on earth is a series of complex interactions, with connections through food webs.  Simply put, species at the top of the food chain eat species in the middle of the food chain which in turn eat species on the bottom of the food chain.  And therefore, changes in the abundance of one community segment will affect the other segments.  In fact, recent studies have indeed documented that overfishing of large sharks (the apex predators) has resulted in numerical increases in populations of their normal prey such as smaller sharks and rays (known as mid-level predators or mesopredators) in a phenomenon called “predator release”.  In turn, the mesopredators are overeating their own smaller prey such as bay scallops and bony fishes even lower on the food chain.  Scientists call such effects that ripple down the food chain “trophic cascades”.

Still, will it really matter all that much if we overfish sharks?  Won’t some other large predatory species, such as billfish and barracuda, take over for sharks at the top of the food chain and keep the food webs functioning normally?

If only the interconnections of life were that simple…….

New studies in Shark Bay, Australia by Dr. Mike Heithaus and his team at Florida International University are showing that in addition to playing important roles in the food web by direct predation (or lethal) effects, including keeping prey population sizes in check, sharks also play a large role in maintaining the normal functioning of marine ecosystems by— get this— influencing the behavior of their prey!

How does this prey behavior to ecosystem function connection work?

Let’s take the seagrass ecosystem as an example.  Recreational fishers and patrons of the marine outdoors know that seagrass beds are critically important nursery areas for juveniles and sometimes even adults of all types of fishes and invertebrates.  The health of seagrass ecosystems is woven into an intricate balance with larger animals such as sea-cows, sea turtles and birds that obtain their sustenance in seagrass beds, either by directly grazing on the seagrass or eating smaller creatures living on the seagrass or in the surrounding sediment. These large animals (mesopredators) are in turn, prey for tiger sharks.

Let’s connect the ecosystem dots: Dr. Heithaus and colleagues have documented that sea-cows, sea turtles and birds avoid hanging out in seagrass beds when tiger sharks are seasonally present in Shark Bay, and jump right back in to devour their favorite foods after the sharks leave in winter.  Makes survival sense doesn’t it?  What this shows is that the presence of tiger sharks causes the mesopredators to change their habitat-use behavior to avoid the risk of being eaten. And this risk-avoidance behavior keeps the seagrass beds and their inhabitants from being over-consumed.

The take home message is that sharks keep the marine ecosystem in balance not just by directly eating their prey — the role that gets the most attention, but also indirectly by altering the behavior of their prey.  The importance of this indirect ecosystem role of sharks is just beginning to be recognized.

We at the Guy Harvey Research Institute, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and AFTCO hope that you will keep in mind the delicate balance required to keep our oceans healthy. Please enjoy our marine environment with respect for all of its remarkable life forms.  If you catch a shark, enjoy its magnificence, keep its important ecosystem role in mind – and let it swim away.

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Jun 17, 2010

CSI in Real-World, Shark Conservation and Management — Better than TV!

Shark populations around the world are being decimated by indiscriminate overfishing to supply the market demand for shark fin soup.  These severe and rapid population reductions of the ocean’s apex predators have led to legitimate worries about disruptions to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems.  The U.S. government, recognizing this looming environmental disaster, has made landings of 20 shark species deemed especially sensitive to overfishing illegal in U.S. Atlantic federal waters (see for list).

Shark "logs" Photo credit: M. Shivji, GHRI

Shark "logs" Photo credit: M. Shivji, GHRI

Until recently, shark species were landed as processed carcasses or “logs”, i.e., in gutted form with their heads, tails and fins removed (see photo).  The highly valuable, detached fins were kept separate from the carcasses.  Since many sharks are difficult to identify even as intact animals, this processing practice made it extremely difficult to determine whether legal or illegal species were being landed.  In fact, because of this species-identification difficulty, shark “finning” – the illegal practice where high value fins from some species (e.g., hammerhead, dusky, sandbar sharks) were landed without the corresponding carcasses, was commonplace.  To prevent finning, new government regulations established in July 2008 require the fins of sharks landed in the U.S. Atlantic fisheries to be “naturally attached” to the carcass when landed – i.e., they can still be cut along most of their attachment point as long as they remain dangling from the carcass by a small piece of uncut skin.  The cutting away of most of the fin is allowed so that the fishers can fold the fins back along the carcass to save on vessel storage space.  The shark’s head, however, can still be removed at sea. Unfortunately, even with this new regulation, identifying the species landed by visual inspection only is still difficult for the non-expert. Furthermore, this new regulation does not yet apply to sharks landed in U.S. Pacific fisheries.

Confiscated Shark Fins.  Photo credit: A. Samuels, NOAA OLE

Confiscated Shark Fins. Photo credit: A. Samuels, NOAA OLE

To help management agencies detect landings of illegal shark species, scientists from the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University pioneered the development of a rapid DNA forensics test to accurately identify shark body parts (carcasses, fins, fillets) to species. This test has routinely been used since 2003 to help NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement and international government agencies enforce their regulations pertaining to illegal fishing of protected shark species.  The GHRI has assisted with over 20 such federal law enforcement cases, including one where the DNA analysis showed a U.S. fish dealer in illegal possession of fins from 19 great white sharks, a species considered by the IUCN (  at high risk for extinction in the wild.  This case resulted in the fish dealer being assessed US $ 750,000 in fines!

The GHRI’s DNA forensic test has given fishery managers extra “teeth” to enforce regulations that, although well intentioned, were previously difficult to implement.  We now have a powerful set of DNA-based, crime-fighting tools similar to those used in human criminal cases also being successfully applied in fish conservation and management.  High-tech “Fisheries CSI” is now a reality!  Ideas for a TV show, anyone?

LA. Times:                    

Conservation Magazine:

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Apr 30, 2010

Hammerhead Shark Fins — Too Delicious for the Shark’s Own Good

HHs in Ecuador_MShivji.1

Scalloped and smooth hammerheads for the fin trade landed in Equador ©M. Shivji

In 2006, Dr. Shelley Clarke of Imperial College, UK, in collaboration with the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Florida conducted the first quantitative assessment of the number of sharks being killed by surveying fin markets.  As part of this pioneering study, they estimated that 1.5 to 4 million hammerhead sharks are killed per year by commercial fishers just to satisfy the demands of the international fin trade!  And these staggering figures are conservative because they only account for the three large hammerhead species (great, scalloped and smooth hammerheads) of the nine known species, and don’t include the many hammerheads killed that don’t end up in the fin markets.  The actual number of hammerhead sharks killed worldwide is undoubtedly larger.

What accounts for this large-scale slaughter of one of the ocean’s most charismatic and evolutionarily distinctive creatures?  It’s ironic that although hammerhead shark meat is considered of very low food quality in most commercial markets, their fins fetch amongst the highest prices in the world fin trade.  Depending on the species, average wholesale prices for hammerhead shark fins range from U.S. $88-135 per kilogram of unprocessed fins – that’s 2-4 times more than the price of fresh tuna fillets in most U.S. grocery stores!

As you might imagine, this high market value for hammerhead shark fins has created enormous economic incentives to exploit them.  The three large hammerhead species are distributed in tropical to temperate waters worldwide, and the absence of fisheries management by most nations, has resulted in their severe overfishing globally.  The data shows that even in U.S waters where some management is practiced, hammerhead populations have declined over 80%!  It makes the population status and future outlook for hammerheads in most parts of their range pretty dire.

Discarded carcass of finned scalloped hammerhead   ©Jeff Rotman/

Discarded carcass of finned scalloped hammerhead ©Jeff Rotman/

These overfishing concerns resulted in the U.S. and Palau co-sponsoring a proposal to the March 2010 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to list all three large hammerheads on Appendix II of the international treaty.  This listing would have triggered strong restrictions to international trade in fins from these species, reducing the economic incentives to continue unabated, ecologically damaging overfishing.  Unfortunately, Japan and its allied countries were strongly opposed to such a listing and launched a major effort to defeat the proposal.  In the final analysis even though the majority of nations voted in support of the listing, the measure failed because it did not receive the two-thirds vote required for adoption (final vote was 75 in support, 45 against and 14 abstentions).

With the failure of the listing proposal to be adopted by CITES, unregulated fishing and trade in fins will continue with the real risk that hammerhead populations in many parts of their range will be extirpated or at the very least reduced to the point of ecological extinction.  This will not only add another significant disruption to the proper working of our ocean ecosystems, but is also ethically deplorable.

So what’s to be done now to try and conserve hammerhead sharks?  The Guy Harvey Research Institute scientists and their collaborators from the Save Our Seas Foundation are working quickly to collect scientific data on the population status of hammerhead sharks worldwide, and develop rapid DNA forensics tools that can be used to track the origin of fins in the market to their geographic origins.  This information is essential to bolster the case (get more supporting votes) for international trade restrictions at the next CITES meeting, and for supporting implementation of protective fishery regulations for hammerhead sharks by individual countries.

Thank you for your continued support of the conservation research and policy initiatives that are being worked on to prevent these amazing and unique sharks from being commercially overfished into oblivion.

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Mar 9, 2010

Oooops, That White Marlin is…not a White Marlin

A conundrum for management and conservation of one of the Atlantic’s most overfished oceanic species

Here’s an eye-opening tale of how little we really know about the diversity of life in our oceans. And why scientific information is so critical for sustaining our fisheries. A simple case of mistaken fish species identity has really messed up what we thought we knew about the magnificent, but severely overfished white marlin. Furthermore, this unrecognized mistake, which has occurred for decades, is raising serious questions about how we can better manage the white marlin to ensure its future survival.

White Marlin (top); Roundscale Spearfish (bottom)

White Marlin (top); Roundscale Spearfish (bottom) ©Guy Harvey Research Institute

So what’s this mistake? It turns out that for years, anglers thinking they were catching the prized white marlin may have caught an entirely different species instead! Just three years ago, a team of scientists from the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University and NOAA Fisheries in Florida made a startling discovery – they confirmed the existence of a previously unrecognized billfish species that looks very similar to a white marlin (see photo). Known as the roundscale spearfish, this new billfish species has now been found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, where its distribution overlaps that of the real white marlin.

Then in December 2009, the same scientific team reported that roundscale spearfish made up a significant portion (about 27%) of the commercial catch that was previously believed to be white marlin.

By now you may be asking, “what’s the fuss?” The problem is that because the existence of the roundscale spearfish was unrecognized until recently, its inadvertent misidentification as white marlin for decades makes past assessments of white marlin population sizes – which are based on fisheries catch data – inaccurate. Basically, what used to be called the “white marlin” was actually a mixture of two species!

White Marlin © Guy Harvey

White Marlin ©Guy Harvey

What does this mean for the future of the threatened, real white marlin?  Given huge concerns about its depleted populations, two petitions (in 2002 and 2007) to list the white marlin under the U.S. Endangered Species Act were considered.  If such a listing had gone through, it would likely have put an end to white marlin fishing tournaments, which infuse millions of dollars into the recreational fishing industry as well as local economies. Now the discovery of a look-alike species, realization of it’s long-standing mix-up with  white marlin, and the fact that it makes up a substantial portion of past “white marlin” catch, raises considerable confusion regarding the accuracy of our biological knowledge about white marlin and its population sizes. Two issues are clear: First, it’s back to the drawing board to figure out what the white marlin population size really is and how to better manage this species before its populations completely crash. Second, it also means that there is another large billfish species out there (the roundscale spearfish) that we know nothing about and that could very well also be declining rapidly due to overfishing.

I find it remarkable that the existence of a large billfish species in U.S. waters went unnoticed until just three years ago! This “oops” moment points to the urgent need for more scientific research about our planet’s oceans before we lose even more biodiversity.

The good news is that the scientific team from the GHRI and NOAA Fisheries is making fast progress on developing the tools and providing the information needed to help fishery managers better conserve the white marlin and roundscale spearfish. Thank you for your continued support of such important scientific research through the purchase of Guy Harvey sportswear. It makes a statement that you care about the welfare of our fragile oceans!

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Jan 10, 2010

The Guy Harvey Research Institute and Marine Conservation Science

Director of Guy Harvey Research Institute

Director of Guy Harvey Research Institute

Thank you so much for your patronage of Guy Harvey art inspired sportswear. Did you know that your purchase of this high quality fishing clothing and fishing t shirts helps our collective efforts on behalf of ocean conservation? Let me explain.

The oceans are a signature part of life on Planet Earth, including factors critical to human survival such as food resources and climate modulation. Most people who earn their livelihoods from the ocean or use it for their recreation are now well aware of the increasingly degraded state of marine ecosystems resulting from overfishing, coastal over-development, pollution and habitat destruction by humans.

But can anything be done to stop this degradation and even restore our marine ecosystems before these changes become irreversible?

Luckily, the answer is still yes and there is evidence to support this optimistic outlook. There is, however, also a strong “but” associated with this optimism – and that is corrective action can no longer be kept on the back burner on our environmental priority list. In fact, all credible science points to the fact that preventing irreversible damage to our oceans will need effective management and conservation actions to be implemented immediately and dynamically on a global scale.

Unfortunately, taking corrective action to restore the health of our oceans has been easier said than done because the issues involved are socioeconomically and scientifically complex. Adding to this complexity is that the oceans provide an average of 18% (developed countries) to 25% (developing countries) of the protein consumed by humans. And the demand for seafood continues to increase with growing human populations and space limitations for agriculture on land. Without urgent, major improvements in how we collectively manage and conserve our oceans worldwide, we face the alarming prospect that the health of earth’s marine ecosystems and fishery resources is quickly becoming strained beyond the point of recovery.

So what’s to be done to improve the state of our oceans?

The absolute foundation for improving ocean governance is the availability of solid scientific information on how marine ecosystems work, and a much larger segment of the public that is educated and passionate about and involved in ocean issues. And this is where we fall short.

Guy Harvey Research Institute

Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center campus in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

And this is where the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) and its sister organization, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) are playing major roles. Providing this critical foundation of marine ecosystem knowledge via high quality scientific research, university-level education and national and international dissemination of research findings to the general public via major media is the focus of the GHRI’s activities. The GHOF supports the scientific research of the GHRI as its research arm, and also focuses on public education and ocean advocacy activities via documentaries and new generation (social and web) media dissemination of marine conservation issues.

History of the Guy Harvey Research Institute

Dr. Guy Harvey, himself a marine biologist, has long recognized the foundational relationship between scientific knowledge and effective ocean governance. To advance this knowledge he established in 1999 the Guy Harvey Research Institute in collaboration with the Oceanographic Center at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. The mission of the GHRI is to play a global leadership role in providing the scientific information required for effective marine conservation. Its worldwide research work is supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and various government and private foundation grants and individual donors who are passionate about the welfare of the earth’s oceans. A major and long-standing supporter of the GHRI’s scientific research activities is the AFTCO Mfg Co. Incorporated via its AFTCO Bluewater line of Guy Harvey sportswear. The GHRI is also part of the academic arm of the Oceanographic Center at Nova Southeastern University, and provides advanced training to U.S. and international students in marine conservation research. This research training focus is an important part of the GHRI’s activities in educating the future stewards of our ocean’s health.

As a guest blogger on this site, I will periodically report on the GHRI’s research activities and important new findings generally in marine science and conservation. Also, please visit our web sites for an overall perspective on what we do. I hope you will find this information to be of interest and it will spur you on to become and remain active supporters for protecting and restoring our fragile oceans and its ecosystems. Thank you again for supporting ocean conservation with your purchases. I hope you will wear your Guy Harvey sportswear with pride and the knowledge that you are making a difference!