Study for a shark protection plan

Little is known of the abundance and species composition of sharks in the Caribbean Sea. In studies commissioned by the Dutch Government in 2012 and 2013 IMARES documented the occurrence of 30 species of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays, hereafter sharks) and six other species to be tentatively present. Of these, 10 species are critically endangered and 8 are near threatened according to the IUCN Red List.

Overfishing and habitat loss are considered the largest threats to sharks in the region. Sharks are not a target fisheries in the Dutch Caribbean, but are caught as bycatch in artisanal fisheries. The legal context differs per island: Shark fisheries are prohibited on St. Maarten and all sharks are protected species on Bonaire. Some species are protected on all islands in regional (SPAW) en international (CMS en CITES) treaties.

In 2013 IMARES conducted a feasibility study for a shark protection plan for Caribbean Netherlands for the Dutch Government. It provides an overview of available scientific knowledge on the biology and ecology of documented species, resource user perception on shark protection, and objectives and preconditions for a shark protection plan. The study resulted in recommendations for further research to broaden the knowledge of shark species and the status of shark populations through low tech opportunistic approaches to increase stakeholder awareness, support and participation and through high tech genetic and telemetric research.

In the continuation of the project in 2014 IMARES implemented an acoustic telemetry study on Saba, to research the distribution patterns, habitat use, seasonal patterns and ultimately to gain insight whether and at what scale protected area enhance shark populations. Preliminary results show that the method is suitable to scale up to surrounding islands and the Saba Bank. Furthermore a citizen science project was set up using the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database and the shark research in Caribbean Netherlands was presented at the European Elasmobranch Association Conference to promote regional and international collaboration.