We start small and generate a proof of concept for our work to understand and protect large marine wildlife. Following success and local demand or need, our research and conservation initiatives are scaled up with in-country partners through careful replication and adaptation to new sites and conditions. Registered in the US as 501(c)3 and in Belize as a non-profit, MarAlliance is based in Belize with a strong regional focus in Central America and the Caribbean.



Lighthouse Reef Atoll’s Half Moon Caye Natural Monument (Rachel Graham/Lighthawk)

1. Belize

With 21 years of country-based experience working with large fish, turtles, fisheries, and the tourism sector in Belize, MarAlliance’s work with large iconic marine wildlife began here. Our multi-pronged approach to big fish conservation integrates fisheries-dependent and independent research, tourism, outreach and education, capacity building, and policy support.

Accomplishments

  • Deep sea shark program expanded with novel findings for several species
  • Multiple peer to peer exchanges with MesoAmerican reef country traditional fishers
  • Skills exchange with our Belizean fisher colleagues training Micronesian fishers in sustainable lobster capture, and Honduran, Mexican and Panamanian fishers in marine megafauna monitoring and lionfish capture and processing
  • Completion of marine megafauna monitoring nationally
  • Reached over 1500 students in the MAR kids educational program
  • Co-founded and participate in the National Shark Advisory Committee.



An juvenile tiger shark cruises near the reefs of Roatan, Honduras (Patric Lengacher)

2. Honduras

A moratorium on fishing sharks declared in 2011 has left the country without much data on populations and distributions of sharks and rays (collectively known as elasmobranchs). Working locally with traditional fishers, coastal and indigenous communities, we focus on generating information necessary for management and decision-making through collaborative research and monitoring, capacity building, income diversification, and outreach.

Accomplishments

  • We completed the baseline for large marine wildlife throughout the Bay Islands in 2017; Completed sawfish surveys with traditional fishers to assess the status of these critically endangered rays;
  • Engaged over 2,340 late primary students and 68 teachers in our activities based marine educational program.
  • Held first regional fisher and partner meeting to assess status and actions for marine megafauna and small scale fisheries post baseline survey completion.
  • Co-founded and facilitate the National Shark Advisory Committee.



Whale sharks and manta rays seasonally aggregate in the waters of NE Quintana Roo to feed on an abundance of tuna caviar. (Rachel Graham)

3. Mexico

The Caribbean facing state of Quintana Roo possesses over 500 km of the MesoAmerican Reef and hosts key aggregation sites for several megafauna including whale sharks, manta rays and reef sharks. We have established permanent sites where we conduct standardized long-term monitoring of coastal and reef-associated marine megafauna.

Accomplishments

  • Completed the marine megafauna baseline for multiple sites throughout Quintana Roo.
  • Conducted a trade in skills between Belize and Mexican fishers, where Belizean fishers taught Mexican fishers monitoring skills and Mexican fishers taught Belizeans how to fish live lobster using the non-destructive loop stick.
  • Monitoring skills training and peer to peer exchange between Belize and Mexican and Mexican, Honduran and Panamanian fishers.



A nurse shark swims above the seagrass flats near Panama’s Caribbean coast. (Rachel Graham)

4. Panama

Panama is bounded by the Caribbean and the Pacific yet scarce information exists on the status of its sharks and rays. Panama is also host to one of the remnant populations of critically endangered largetooth sawfish. MarAlliance is conducting fisheries-dependent and independent monitoring of fish and working to protect sawfish throughout the country. We conduct research and outreach in several sites along the Caribbean and the Pacific including the indigenous Guna Yala Comarca, where we work with local fishing communities to help them combat invasive lionfish, and assess the status of marine megafauna and small scale fisheries.

Accomplishments

  • Completed baseline monitoring in three sites on the country’s Caribbean coast
  • Conducted surveys with fishers throughout both sides of the country to assess the historical populations and current status of critically endangered sawfish
  • Initiated our educational program in primary schools in Panama City, the Los Santos province, and the Guna Yala comarca- reaching over 3000 students and their teachers so far
  • Organized a fisher exchange between artisanal fishers from Mexico and Belize with fishers in the Guna Yala Comarca to help them manage their fisheries as well as hunt and utilize invasive lionfish
  • Trained 30 local traditional fishers, university students, and biologists in standardized fisheries-independent monitoring methods



Ze Luis prepared the bait arm for a baited remote underwater video deployment off the waters of Boa Vista, Cape Verde. (Zeddy Seymour)

5. Cabo Verde

The status of sharks and rays in the Eastern Atlantic is poorly known, as is their connectivity with the Western Atlantic. Working with traditional fishers and institutional partners, we are conducting the first fisheries-dependent and -independent assessments and long-term monitoring of sharks and rays in Cabo Verde, including critical nursery areas. This work gives us a platform to focus on the spatial ecology of large, threatened and highly migratory elasmobranchs, data deficient species and to conduct broad outreach and education to create alliances between these species and local communities.
Accomplishments

  • Completed first fisheries independent baseline for sharks, rays and turtles throughout Cabo Verde’s Eastern Islands
  • Completed fisher’s historical surveys
  • Trained 9 traditional fishers in fisheries independent monitoring techniques for sharks and rays.
  • Engaged 460 students in the Menin de Mar educational program



Taylor, a traditional Pohnpeian fisher, prepares to release a grouper tagged during a study of the species’ spawning aggregation. (Rachel Graham)

6. Federated States of Micronesia

Sharks’ potential reliance on grouper spawning aggregations for sustenance and how this may impact fisheries and marine protected areas management form the focus of our first project in Pohnpei, the capital state of the FSM. We are also investigating the spatio-temporal behaviour of coastal manta rays around the islands and their capture vulnerabilities to the tuna-purse seine fisheries.

Accomplishments

  • Creation of a physical market by fishers to sell and distribute more sustainably sourced seafood and compliance with fisheries regulations

Past projects



Community meeting of fishers and their families to discuss alternatives to offset declining shark fisheries along the Guatemalan Caribbean coast. (Rachel Graham)

Guatemala

Although Guatemala has a comparatively small portion of the Caribbean coastline, it has a diverse and vibrant small-scale fishing sector. Working with and training traditional artisanal fishers and institutional partners, we conducted the country’s first fisheries- dependent and -independent surveys for sharks and rays on the Caribbean coast. This was complemented by broad fisher and public perception surveys and the country’s first market assessment for shark and ray products, revealing numbers behind the strong demand for shark and ray products in-country.

Accomplishments

  • Completed first fisheries independent baseline for sharks, rays and turtles along Guatemala’s Caribbean coast
  • Trained 7 NGO biologists and Government partners and 15 fishers in marine megafauna monitoring techniques
  • Conducted two peer to peer exchanges for training between Guatemala and Belize
  • Published novel findings for three deep water shark species captured by fishers
  • Completed historical fisher and perception surveys and fisheries dependent landings project.



A large female Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) patrols the healthy reefs of the Jardines de la Reina (Rachel Graham)

Cuba

The Jardines de la Reina marine protected area is a mecca for divers seeking out shark encounters in the Caribbean. We conducted the first fisheries-independent assessment of sharks in Cuba and assessed the effectiveness of the marine protected area in protecting sharks in collaboration with partners from the academic, government and private sectors. We expanded the methods and project to other sites to create the baselines necessary for monitoring sharks and rays.

Tiburones de Cuba



A manta ray glides above the Flower Garden Banks of the Northern Gulf of Mexico (G.P. Schmahl)

USA

Manta rays are frequent visitors to the Gulf of Mexico’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Working with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the private sector and recreational divers, we assessed the spatio-temporal use of the banks by manta rays using photo ID, acoustic and satellite tagging.