Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Dr. Graham presents on the Status of Sharks in Belize


In Wednesday night, April 11th, Dr. Rachael Graham of the World Conservation Society held a presentation on the status of sharks in Belize. The one hour presentation commenced at 8PM and was held at the San Pedro Lion’s Den.

Dr. Graham, Director of the Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society spoke to The San Pedro Sun before her presentation, “My presentation tonight is actually going to focus on the status and the future of sharks and rays in Belize. It’s going to give a very broad overview of the status of sharks globally then go a little bit into the biology of sharks. I will also be sharing some kind of neat facts that people don’t know about sharks and rays.”  Her presentation also shed light on the research that she has been doing in the country. “My research is very broad brush at this point. We started off with the whale sharks in 1998. That’s how a lot of the shark research started here in Belize. But when I realized that whale sharks are doing pretty well, I started looking into what I like to call the toothy sharks, like Bull sharks, Caribbean Reef sharks, Nurse Sharks and so forth. What I was finding was that actually we have a fishery for sharks here and it has seriously depleted the shark populations. In fact, the last time that the co-op took in shark meat was 1993 because they didn’t feel that it was productive enough and most Belizean fishers who had fished sharks stopped fishing shark.” While Belizean fishermen ceased fishing sharks, fishermen from neighboring countries took over and are now scraping the barrel.

What Dr. Graham hopes to do is educate the general public on the importance of sharks to the ecosystem, especially to the survival of the reef ecosystem, “Sharks and rays are incredibly important to the ecosystem and especially the Coral Reef Eco System. What they do is they keep a lot of their prey populations in balance and by doing so that tends to keep our coral reef a lot more resilient. It also keeps our commercial fish stocks in much better shape. In fact, if you remove sharks and rays, a lot of the time you are going to find that you’ll have all kinds of ramifications from their loss that impact the snappers, the groupers, the jacks, the herbivores and finally, what may be causing the algae over growth on the reefs here in Belize.

The presentation touched on topics that included: Threats to Sharks and Rays; Challenges that Conservation efforts face; Current Global situation of Sharks; Shark Species Population Decline since the 1970’s; the Lack of Sustainable Shark Fisheries worldwide; Reasons for Sharks and Rays’ Vulnerability and Age at Maturity of sharks, among others.

Dr. Graham commended San Pedro on its efforts and work in Shark Conservation spreading the message that sharks are more valuable alive than dead,  “One of the things that San Pedro has shown very very well is their pride in their sharks. I think they’re very proud of their sharks here and they have demonstrated it time and time again, particularly through Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley that a live shark is worth very much more than a dead shark. And I hope that they will pass that message onto the rest of the country and to the rest of the region.”

In closing the presentation, a very touching clip of a field trip that Dr. Graham took with children from Sartenaja Village to Hol Chan Shark Ray, was shown. The kids were initially scared of sharks and some, even of the water. After they were briefed on the friendly creatures they soon braved the waters and experienced swimming with the sharks and rays.  Speaking of the presentation, one attendee stated, “I am really excited at the fact that Dr. Graham has started educating the community on the sharks and rays. I learned some new facts about sharks and rays. It was really interesting. The video on the kids in Sarteneja was really inspiring. The community will benefit greatly from more of Dr. Graham’s seminars.

Dr. Graham is scheduled to move to San Pedro later this year as she commences her Northern Belize Shark Project geared at northern Belize which includes San Pedro.

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