Jeremy Kiszka is advancing conservation efforts of sharks and rays in East Africa, an effort supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
For Kiszka, an FIU marine scientist, it’s been a 15-year interest in a region where information is scarce. Only a small number of scientists have worked regularly in the area to better understand the local shark and ray species there.
“Information on sharks and rays is really scarce in the waters of the western Indian Ocean, while conservation challenges seem huge” Kiszka said. “We need to be compiling everything we can to figure out what species are present and what their conservation status is. The most important thing is we need information to identify research areas to guide us on what to do next.”
In addition to being a global biodiversity hotspot, the Indian Ocean also supports intensive and largely unmanaged shark and ray fisheries. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working with the Secretariat of the Nairobi Convention, a part of the United Nations Regional Seas Convention for the East African Region, to advance conservation in the area. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has provided grant support to the initiative. The WCS is relying on experts, like Kiszka, to help provide critical baseline information needed to better understand what species currently exist in the area, which species should be prioritized for conservation, and what actions should be recommended for consideration by the Nairobi Convention and its member states.
Working with the WCS, Kiszka believes scientists will be able to expand capacity to do research in the western Indian Ocean and finally advance conservation efforts and better work with local fisheries, fishing communities and local NGOs,research institutions and governments to manage shark and ray populations.
Kiszka is currently working Madagascar as part of the Global FinPrint project, an international effort partly led by FIU to survey reef shark and ray populations using baited remote underwater video cameras. He points out that FinPrint is the next step in conservation for the East African region. Once the WCS report is complete, Kiszka points out scientists will need to know where the sharks and rays actually reside. Funded by Microsoft Co-Founder Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc., FinPrint is designed to answer just that by catching sharks and rays on camera in their natural habitats. Kiszka, working through FIU’s Tropical Conservation Institute, recently returned from Madagascar with 150 hours of footage that will further advance the conservation efforts in East Africa. While there, he and a team of researchers trained others that will continue the work through July. The FinPrint team also continues to expand its reach through partnerships, with the hope of sampling the entire west coast of Madagascar, where most fisheries that target sharks are located. Like a puzzle, Kiszka and other scientists like him, are working to put all the pieces in place to effectively conserve and restore populations of the oceans’ greatest predators.