Note: This article has been backdated for archival purposes
Top Image: Photo of holding a hammerhead shark, by Roblin García
This post is one of a series on projects supported by the Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations all around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the ocean.
MCAF Fellow Andrés López, shark scientist and co-founder of Misión Tiburón Costa Rica, shares news of their project to study and protect hammerhead sharks and their nursery through the establishment of a protected area in Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica. MCAF has helped to support the efforts of Misión Tiburón since 2010 as they have worked to conduct research, advocacy, outreach and education programs centered on shark and ray conservation in Costa Rica. In this piece, Andrés talks about the recent impacts of COVID19 on Misión Tiburón’s conservation and research work.
Sea of Hope in Osa Costa Rica: Hammerhead sharks being born in times of the Covid-19 Pandemic
By Andrés López
As nature continues with its usual cycle regardless of Covid-19, the months of June, July and August 2020, were months of births in the Golfo Dulce Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary in the South Pacific of Costa Rica. For thousands of years, at the beginning of the rainy season, adult females come to the Gulf to give birth to their young. The waters rich in squid, sardines and shrimp will give them protection and food during the first years of their life. For this reason, since 2018 the wetlands of the Golfo Dulce were declared a sanctuary for hammerhead sharks, under the new governance model where hammerhead sharks are conserved with the help of the communities and in turn, receive direct benefits and opportunities of their conservation efforts.
The hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) is a migratory species whose populations have decreased dramatically in recent decades, to the point that the IUCN included it on its Red List as a CRITICALLY ENDANGERED species since December 2019. Its life cycle in oceanic waters and coastal areas make hammerheads vulnerable to the impact of anthropogenic actions such as overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation and more recently climate change.
Since its creation more than 10 years ago, Misión Tiburón has been working on the identification and conservation of critical coastal habitats used by the hammerhead shark, focusing its efforts on nursery areas. Areas used by the young during their first months of life and where they are most threatened. The basis of our proposal is simple: “If we succeed in getting coastal communities to protect hammerhead shark hatchlings and they become adults, there will be adult sharks in the future.” Throughout this decade of work, thousands of sharks have been analyzed, more than 10,000 students have been involved in awareness activities, and more than 200 officials have been trained, including park rangers, coastguards and fisheries inspectors. This is thanks to the support of indispensable allies, this is the case of MCAF, whose support was crucial for the consolidation of our organization and the empowerment of the hammerhead shark with coastal communities years ago.
The creation of the Golfo Dulce hammerhead shark sanctuary two years ago, started a new stage, in which conserving hammerheads that benefit both marine ecosystems and communities. For this reason, in recent years, Misión Tiburón has been promoting alternative activities to commercial fishing, such as diving tourism (scuba and snorkeling), whale watching and tourist artisanal fishing.
With the arrival of the Pandemic, a new threat puts the sustainability and conservation of hammerhead shark populations at risk. Thanks to the unconditional support of the MCAF and its Emergency funds, Misión Tiburón has been able to continue monitoring sharks and taking tours of the Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary. In the last 2 months, 50 sharks of different species have been analyzed, where S. lewini continues to be one of the most common species. In addition, 12 tours have been made in the Sanctuary in search of illegal activities such as fishing or degradation of the mangrove.