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Jackson Wild Summit


MarAlliance was fortunate to take part in the Jackson Wild Summit, a convening of scientists, conservationists, story tellers and filmmakers held at the foothills of Wyoming’s Teton mountains.

We were amazed and greatly inspired by the incredible work underway by all sectors who are moving the needle to raise awareness, inspire the public and reverse declines in wildlife.

Founder Dr. Rachel Graham took part in a panel on Species on the Brink, an NSF science round table and scientists pitching stories to filmmakers. We are grateful to the team at Jackson Wild, The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for enabling Dr. Graham to participate and learn so much from peers, reconnect with colleagues and friends of long-standing.

She is already applying what she learnt to our collective work of shark science and conservation and cannot wait to see some of the pitched documentaries become reality.

Fisheries assessment of the Guna Yala reveals possible strategies for restoring fish populations


Community based conservation is all about relationships and flexibility. And trust and connections take years to build. We have blazed into a 3rd year of working with fishers, students, and communities in the autonomous indigenous Guna Yala Comarca on Panama’s Caribbean coast.

Our work shifted and expanded from our original goal of developing local capacities for controlling lionfish populations into a holistic program encompassing fisheries assessments, experiential education, capacity-building and addressing issues of food security and management measures.

Although many of the education events and workshops that we carry out in the archipelago still include training on the safe handling and use of invasive lionfish, we are developing a deeper understanding of the state of fisheries and fish populations in relation to community needs and challenges. This incremental knowledge has been  made possible through our annual standardized monitoring of big fish, and the first fisheries-dependent assessment of fisheries and fishers in Guna Yala conducted since the 1980s.

Carried out by our Guna Research Officer and University of Panama student, Leyson Navarro, who visited 11 fishing communities throughout the 370+ km length of the Comarca. Leyson interviewed 112 artisanal fishers about their fishing habits, key species captured, perceptions of the fisheries and changes in local fish populations, and conservation mechanisms such as Marine Protected Areas and gear limits.

Fishers interviewed highlighted significant changes in fish populations over time- with fewer total fish and smaller individuals being caught now compared to decades prior. Some species that were once fairly common, such as tarpon and even sawfish, have not been seen since the 1980s.

This has supported the data we have gathered through our monitoring- with few big fish species observed overall, especially in sites close to human communities. Over 75% of the fishers interviewed said that fishing was their only source of income, and they supported an average of five dependents. While most fishers fish to feed their families, those living closer to tourist hotspots are driven to use unsustainable gear types such as nets to better supply the visitors’ burgeoning demand for seafood.

Though the majority of individuals were in favor of limiting or banning the use of nets, they were not in favor of creating protected areas or closing areas to fishing. Unfortunately, the only way to bring back the fish and its concomitant fishery is to reduce fishing effort. Insights derived from the fisher interviews will underpin meetings to be held with the newly elected local leadership as they define novel strategies to move fisheries towards sustainability and secure food security in the Comarca. 

Lend your voice to sharks


What if your country was declared a shark sanctuary but people knew little to nothing about it, or didn’t even understand sharks needed protection? Our public campaign to raise awareness for sharks and rays is launching this month in Honduras thanks to funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Houston Zoo and the Oak Foundation.

The initiative seeks to raise support for shark and ray protection in Latin American’s only declared shark sanctuary and reduce consumer demand for illegally sourced meat. We shaped our campaign strategies based on the results from a broadly applied public knowledge and perceptions survey conducted throughout main cities in Honduras in 2018, we determined that people know very little about sharks.

A high percentage of interviewees confirmed that their knowledge was derived from Discovery Channel programs and never from local television and media. Likewise, we confirmed that 91% of those interviewed agreed on the need for an entity that protects sharks and rays in Honduras; however, only 45% felt that it should be a Government entity. Nevertheless, the biggest obstacle is that despite the sanctuary designation, directed and incidental fishing for sharks and rays continues unabated in-country, generated by a demand for meat, protein alternatives, use of unsustainable gears and a lack of knowledge on the benefits sharks provide to keep the seas healthy.

Many fishermen and the general public are unaware of shark species’ age at maturity or fecundity, and generally think that they mature quickly like cats and dogs, produce tens or hundreds of young on a regular basis, when the exact opposite is true. A high percentage of the public is also unaware that shark meat is harmful to their health due to its high methyl mercury content and were unaware that fillet sold in markets is actually shark or ray.

To create awareness, change minds and begin the process of shifting consumers away from shark and ray products while we seek alternatives for fishers and traders dependent on these species for their livelihoods, we initiated the campaign “Lend Your Voice to Sharks”. Now highly visible in several malls and airports in Honduras as videos and banners, the country team has held focus group meetings with fishers, fish market vendors, consumers and is about to launch a social media campaign.

We look forward to informing on the impact of this campaign after we hold a post campaign survey following the peak of shark and ray consumption during the Lenten season in 2020. We hope to see consumption reduced, knowledge and awareness increased and more empathy for sharks and rays in the Honduras public.

Calema or #52, the amazing transatlantic migratory tiger shark


A year ago, during our coastal shark study field work off the coast of Boavista, Cabo Verde, West Africa, we caught a female tiger shark. After ensuring she was in good shape and taking a range of measurements, we outfitted her with a satellite transmission tag on her dorsal fin and initially called her #52.

Little did we know that she would break records for her kind. Known scientifically as Galeocerdo cuvier, tiger sharks range widely in tropical and temperate seas, and can reach upwards of 5 meters (16+ feet). Curious and generally unafraid, they will investigate and consume a range of potential prey from Albatross birds learning to take flight, to green turtles and marine mammals, to their standard finfish fare. What tiger sharks are eating in the sites where we have found them is still a mystery.

We have since called her Calema in honor of favored musicians in the region and discovered that she has made an exceptional return journey across the Atlantic from Cabo Verde to Brazil and back. This is a first documented transatlantic return trip for this species. Unfortunately, after 263 days at liberty and over 13,000km traveled, Calema’s satellite tag ceased to transmit her positions in August.

This could have been due to the death of the tag’s battery, biofouling of the tag that can inhibit transmissions, or the animal’s death, most often due to being fished. The Eastern Atlantic is a hotspot for large scale fisheries that notably target sharks. We hope that she is still alive, but if dead, Calema has thankfully provided us with the first proof of a return migration by a tiger shark from West Africa.

She may have also revealed that tiger residency in Cabo Verde may be short-term and tied to reproduction or foraging as pups have not been readily observed. More mysteries to solve while we further identify how to abate threats to sharks in the region’s heavily fished waters.




As I checked into my flight recently at Panama’s International Airport, I was asked a slew of security questions, where I revealed that I am a biologist. When pressed for what form of biology I dedicate time to, I shared “sharks”. Inciting a gasp from the agent. “Hey, sharks are amazing, beautiful creatures” I countered. “Keep me far away from them…” said the ticket agent. I couldn’t resist. I whipped out my phone to share a few pictures and videos (always handy, along with several show and tell sharks teeth) – much to the consternation of my fellow travelers waiting behind me in line. Moments later, I could tell that I had clearly moved the needle on the Shark-Fear-O-Meter from TERRIFIED to SKEPTICAL, and might I say, even into the realm of INQUISITIVE.

She even shared some of her new knowledge with the nearby baggage handler, who looked at me with a mix of incredulity and surprise. And then smiled broadly. Although I am not religious, I think I am starting to understand missionaries and their quest, nay zeal, to convert or “save” souls. In all honesty, I am little different in my approach when it comes to elasmovangelizing people. My hoped-for end result is to generate a better understanding and even support for the PR-challenged sharks and rays, collectively known as elasmobranchs.

Casual chats with people from all sectors of life are one of several means to lead to a hoped-for reversal in the dramatic declines in elasmo numbers. The causes of decline are many but overwhelmingly due to overfishing. The demand for shark and ray products is fueled by multiple sectors and businesses: fins for soup, meat for human food, pet food, cosmetics, joint medicine, boat waterproofing, curios and so much more. Yet, I have often wondered about the long-term effect of my elasmovangelizing, notably in light of my growing interest in behavioral change theory and practices linked to education and conservation. Fortunately, I got an answer sooner than expected.

During the following trip to Panama’s international airport, Mauricio, the taxi driver I often hire to take me to the airport confessed that he had been fishing a couple of weekends ago. He kept his eyes on the road while he shared, in a smaller voice, that he had caught two hammerhead sharks.

He described them well, leading me to think these belonged to the scalloped or great hammerhead shark clans. To describe their size, he took his hands off the steering wheel. Apparently, he didn’t ascribe to the usual fisher tall tales, as the animals weren’t a whole heck of a lot larger than the wheel. I jumped up and down in the passenger seat. For those who know me, there’s nothing sedate about my excitement at a new finding. Thankfully, we didn’t crash the car. The hammers’ small size indicated their recently born (neonate) status… in an area never previously pegged as a shark nursery.

All I could utter was a “WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE HAMMERS?”. He looked at me slyly, grinned, and then said “I remembered what you had told me last time I took you to the airport, about how these guys are endangered, and when small are most likely babies, so we released them…”. It was a first for him and his fishing partner. And that’s not all. He now wants one of our CSI kits (Collaborative Shark Investigator) so he can go back, catch hammers with a purpose, contribute to science and spread the elasmogospel to generate pride and excitement with his friends to do exactly the same. And that is how we can change hearts and minds and move the needle for sharks. One soul at a time.

Rachel Graham

How fragile we are. In memoriam, Zeddy Seymour.


In July, the unthinkable happened. We lost one of our own to a tragic accident. It hit us hard and changed us all. In pursuit of fish to eat and ever deeper depths in a sport he increasingly embraced, Zeddy Seymour, our Cabo Verde Country Coordinator, went spearfishing while in island of Sal. He did not surface from a deep dive. The news spread like a flash and left us in shock. Friends and colleagues were respectful and kind to keep it from social media while his family was alerted, and steps were taken to recover him from one of his favorite sea sites. Everyone, and I mean everyone, pulled together in a huge effort to bring him home to his family in the UK. In record time. He would have marveled at our collective efficiency and the temporary lifting of the bureaucracy’s veil to achieve this singular goal.

 The chasm left by his death has been hard to fill. Kind and easy in manner, he made loyal friends and colleagues at every turn. Committed and passionate about people and wildlife, and underpinning conservation with science, he reveled in the freedoms brought by the sea and the magnificence of working with its largest creatures. He shared this passion with all he encountered and made steadfast friends in the fishing communities with whom he worked. Zeddy may now be gone but he has not truly left. His legacy of starting the first large study on sharks in Cabo Verde, of discovering shark nurseries, tracking the largest of sharks and rays, improving understanding and conservation of these animals with fishers, students and decision-makers and the many students he inspired, continues. In fact, the movement he started is growing in strength and scope.

Our resilient Cabo Verdean Education and Outreach Officer, Cintia Lima, took over the role of Country Coordinator. She is grappling with a learning curve as she acquires leadership and managerial skills to best run a country program. Our team with many skills in strategy, HR, finance, tech is providing her with support to help her grow into this post and make it her own. Support extends to our top three community fisher leaders: Ze Luis Monteiro, Albertino ‘Tchoka’ Moreno and Joao Lima. With Zeddy’s loss, the four marine musketeers are now three: they have gamely taken the baton of Zeddy’s legacy and seeking to expand our program to other islands. Our research intern and recently graduated master’s student Francesco Garzon took on the mantle of Research Officer, and now runs our CV research and monitoring program, while helping to prepare several of Zeddy’s pending works for publication. Since identifying and nurturing local talent is important to us, we are looking to take on two local interns and masters students to grow our program further as Zeddy had planned.

We may have lost an incredible human, but he created a robust program that will grow his legacy while benefiting Cabo Verde, its coastal fishers and the marine wildlife we see to conserve. In parting, I share one of my favorite poems that I sent to his family to be read at his funeral.


The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

  • Wendell Berry


We are keen to support Zeddy’s legacy through a scholarship program for children of Cabo Verde’s traditional fishers who wish to attend high school and local student interns that we are naming the Zeddy Seymour Scholarship Fund.

These students will become the decision-makers of tomorrow and help us to secure a future for sharks and rays and the communities that depend on them in Cabo Verde. Should you feel so moved, please consider donating to this scholarship fund at and include the Zeddy scholarship fund in the notes.

Ambergris Caye’s youth ready to beat plastic pollution


Outreach & Education Officer Cynthia Xiu engaging students from San Pedro Roman Catholic School
Photo: © Rotaract Club of Ambergris Caye

As part of our outreach and education program to change behaviors in demand and use of plastics, we recently joined forces with Rotaract Club of Ambergris Caye to create an interactive awareness raising campaign on how to curb the threat of plastic pollution. In one week’s time, outreach staff of both organizations reached over 500 students while visiting participating schools on the Caye. The island-wide campaign culminates this Saturday (3 November) in a unique art exhibition by the students.

The science-based campaign taught upper division students how plastic pollution not only affects the environment, but also their own lives and how they can act to reduce plastic pollution. This Saturday’s symbolic, one-day exhibition, showcasing artwork made of recycled plastic, will tell a powerful story from the change-makers of the future to all visitors, including fellow students, parents, teachers, principals and journalists.

These events are part of our global public engagement work which supports the protection of marine wildlife and and their critical habitats. Our experts share educational information and scientific knowledge with different community members, such as students, parents, fishers, tourists, visitors and policy makers.

“Our team at MarAlliance is convinced that outreach and education work is a long-term commitment to change behavior, which is why we targeted the next generation of environmental ambassadors during this campaign. We organize fun activities to spark the enthusiasm of youngsters and hope they will become the future stewards of nature, whom our oceans and its wildlife so desperately need,” Ms. Estela Requena, MarAlliance Finance and Operations Coordinator, concluded.

Three different schools – Holy Cross Anglican School, San Pedro Roman Catholic School and New Horizon SDA School – took part in the campaign which received support from ECI Development, Grand Baymen Belize and Banyan Bay Suites.

Cabo Verde’s newborn sharks are at risk


Paragaleus pectoralis juvenile – endemic to Cabo Verde and this region

As with all fish, sharks also start out small…sometimes, very small. The world’s largest fish, the whale shark historically known to reach up to 20m (66ft) has young that on average measure 40-55cm long (1.5ft) when born. And although mysteries still surround where whale sharks are pupped and grow up when small, the birthing and growing out sites for many other species of sharks and rays, collectively known as elasmobranchs, are becoming increasingly known.

Our work focuses not only on threatened marine fauna but also their critical habitats and, for sharks, one of those habitats is a shark nursery.* These are sites where sharks are pupped (born) and spend the first months or years of their lives growing in an area that is relatively protected until they are large enough to avoid most predators, as sharks and rays do not benefit from any parental care.

You might think these areas are hidden and remote, but sometimes they are literally found under your nose. This is the case with Sal Rei Bay in Boa Vista, the easternmost island in the archipelago of Cabo Verde, West Africa.

Snorkeler in Sal Rei Bay

Over the past two years, our team determined through visual censuses, fishing surveys and underwater camera trapping that Sal Rei Bay provides the ideal nursery area for a host of invertebrates, finfish and particularly sharks. Indeed, few shark nurseries had previously been identified in West Africa making this find regionally important. Sal Rei Bay is teeming with neonate (recently born) Blacktips (Carcharhinus limbatus), Milk Sharks (Rhizoprionodon acutus), the endemic Atlantic Weasel Sharks (Paragaleus pectoralis), and even the endangered and highly migratory Scalloped Hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini). To date, we have identified a total of eight species of juvenile sharks that kindly share this small bay with tourists and the people of Sal Rei.

Shark populations are extremely vulnerable to fishing due to their small number of offspring following long gestation periods – for Hammerheads it is 10 months, Blacktips around 11 months, and Milk Sharks a full year. As Sal Rei town continues to encroach on the bay, more sharks, including baby sharks, are frequently caught by recreational and artisanal (traditional/subsistence) fishers. Endangered Hammerheads are especially vulnerable despite being nationally protected, due to their rapid mortality when on the line or when entangled in nets.

To catalyze the conservation of these threatened species, our team of marine biologists is working hand in hand with the island’s fishers and the newly-formed fisher cooperative to identify, characterize and protect shark nurseries, to ensure the best start in life for these juvenile sharks. This research and conservation focus on shark nurseries is highlighted by leading shark scientists and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as an effective means of improving shark survival.

Local government is increasingly taking an interest in safeguarding the bay as pressures mount from increased tourism to Boa Vista, further leading to a rise in fishing effort and greater recreational use of the bay. The close proximity of the bay to the island’s capital is also a great opportunity for experiential learning: Hammerheads are fast becoming an icon for our outreach and educational program geared at teaching local students about marine life and research and the importance of conservation through practical learning – including taking them out snorkeling in the bay with the small juvenile sharks.

Based on our field work and discussions with fishers, we believe Boa Vista may host several important elasmobranch nurseries. Given their significance for regional shark conservation, protecting these sites is a priority. Continued efforts are needed to ensure the issue stays high on the agenda of all stakeholders involved and the people of Sal Rei champion the bay’s young sharks. What can you do to help sharks when they are most vulnerable? Consider supporting our education and outreach efforts or volunteering to help with the research and monitoring of the shark nursery sites.

*A site is considered a nursery area for sharks if it has the following characteristics:  (1) sharks are more commonly encountered in the area than other areas; (2) sharks have a tendency to remain or return for extended periods; and (3) the area or habitat is repeatedly used across years.




Using the earbones of fish to fill knowledge gaps in the region’s deep-sea fisheries research


The earbones of a fish – called otoliths – have bands, just like trees, which reveal the fish’s age and other key markers from its life. These delicate, translucent structures are the focus of MarAlliance’s latest groundbreaking study of several deep-sea species’ life history. For this research, we set up a highly specialized lab to investigate the secrets that otoliths carry. We take measurements such as length, width, depth and the weight of the otolith, and use thin-sectioning techniques to examine the otolith rings (see photo story), to give us a robust estimate of the fish’s age and other characteristics. This information will assist in determining the best ways to protect fish populations and ensure that fisheries will continue to thrive throughout the region. At the same time, we are exploring lower-cost solutions to obtain the same critical data.

Otoliths are amazing study material because they reflect the fish’s environment and life, its age, and how fast it reaches critical life stages like reproductive age. Our current research specifically targets the deep-sea species, because they tend to live longer and reproduce at a much older age than their shallow-water counterparts. Very little is known about the lifespan and growth rates of deep-sea fishes worldwide, and especially in the MesoAmerican Region. Our findings will fill a sizeable knowledge gap.

Our study focuses on deep-water groupers (family Serranidae) and snappers (family Lutjanidae), as these are the most commonly captured species in the region’s deep-sea fisheries. Groupers are often the first to be overexploited, as they are long-lived and grow to be very large. Analyses of otoliths of Yellowedge Grouper captured in the Gulf of Mexico show they can live up to 80 years. We are also studying four deep-water snapper species: Queen, Wenchman, Silk, and Blackfin Snappers. We suspect that Queen Snappers may be fairly long-lived based on preliminary work by colleagues in the Pacific. However, little research has been done on the other snapper species. Wenchman are captured frequently in the deep-sea fisheries in the Caribbean, while the Silk Snapper is probably one of the most important species in the region, especially in Belize, because it is heavily targeted.

The photo story below describes the method used to unveil the otolith’s secrets.


This technical project requires highly specialized equipment and materials that are often lacking in many Caribbean countries. The costs to outsource the type of otolith research we are performing are often beyond modest fisheries’ research budgets. MarAlliance is looking for affordable and high-quality solutions for science and funding in tropical countries to address this problem, in collaboration with Sea Leucas, a multi-disciplinary consultancy company based in the region that provides fisheries science support.

We are exploring a range of cost-effective methods that can be used as a proxy for determining a fish’s age range, including whether using just one of the otolith measurements, such as its weight, will provide a reasonably-accurate estimate of the age of the fish. In this way, once all the data are validated, countries with limited research budgets will have a low-cost technique for determining the age of a fish that is easy to implement and will become an invaluable method for countries that need more data to understand and manage discrete stock structures of vulnerable fish.

Research partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Our findings will feed into an ecological risk assessment for fisheries to inform management, conservation and government stakeholders in the MesoAmerican Region about which species are most threatened by overfishing. Final findings will come out in three years’ time. In the meanwhile, look out for papers we will be publishing based on the ongoing research.


Community champions: Guna sea savior Leyson Navarro


Leyson out at sea to monitor marine megafauna in Guna Yala

“I want to support my community members by using my knowledge for their wellbeing and for a better use of our natural riches.” Leyson’s eyes fill with pride when he talks about his family, studies and indigenous background. Originally from a small community called Ugupseni (“small beach” in Guna language) located on an island covered by lush forest, the 33 year-old son in a family of five brothers, is the only one who studied marine biology and now wants to give back to his community.

The place he calls home is part of an archipelago of almost 400 islands that make up the indigenous region of Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas) in Panama, only 36 of them are inhabited. The Guna people use the islands’ resources for fishing and hunting. Born and bred in a place surrounded by the sea, Leyson spent most of his free time swimming. He grew up to love the sea and its wildlife, which inspired him to study marine biology.

Lionfish workshop in Guna Yala

Leyson joined MarAlliance in 2017, and has supported our work in the Guna Yala region as a Research Officer ever since by monitoring the area’s sharks and rays, conducting trainings and educational workshops for traditional Guna fishers and raising awareness on how to protect the precious marine wildlife and key habitats of the region. Leyson remembers how it all started, “We built relationships with their leaders and worked with them in areas where they needed us. They told us at first they didn’t care about sharks, but they had a problem with lionfish. So we organized a peer-to-peer training with fishers from Mexico and Belize to show them how to deal with the invasive lionfish.” The successful lionfish project subsequently led to community requests for more education on a range of marine related topics and a keen interest in conducting long-term monitoring of marine wildlife.

Leyson during an outreach workshop with future Guna conservationists

“The work we do is important because we train community members about how the region’s marine diversity can be beneficial to them and how to keep it in good shape. As the indigenous people are the guardians of the islands, the reef and their wildlife, they are gradually assuming responsibility for it. If they manage the marine resources carefully and safeguard their quality, they will be able to continue benefiting from them for generations to come,” he added.

Change is already happening in the communities where MarAlliance works, with fishers adapting their fishing behavior. “Before our work in the region, when the fishers saw a shark, they killed it. Now they tell me that when they see a shark, they don’t harm it because they know the animal is important to the marine ecosystem,” Leyson explained.

However, he feels continued efforts are needed to help Guna people keep their coasts and villages clean, recycle their waste and support the conservation of threatened species in other communities.

Leyson also recognizes that this kind of collaboration only works when it is a two-way stream. Organizations like MarAlliance are learning from the indigenous communities as well, especially from their rich culture, traditions, different local fisheries laws and rules and most certainly from their passion for the wealth of resources nature offers them.

Thinking about the future, Leyson hopes his people will be able to continue to subsist based on the region’s natural resources, like they have always done, thanks to compliance with management plans and regulations, awareness raising campaigns and conservation work. “Being part of an organization that does this kind of work, I can support my community whenever they need me.”

Leyson’s work involves training the youngest community members too

Read more about how we build knowledge and skills across generations of indigenous Guna Yala to save marine wildlife on our Act4SDGs partner page.

MarAlliance founder Dr. Rachel Graham receives Patrick Jones-Chattanooga Zoo Conservation Award


Rachel Graham at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize

MarAlliance is pleased to announce that founder and Executive Director, Dr. Rachel Graham, received the Patrick Jones-Chattanooga Zoo Conservation Award. The award is an annual recognition by the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group (ZCOG) and the Chattanooga Zoo of excellence in wildlife conservation efforts in the Americas.

Dr. Graham received the award for her work with local fishing communities, NGOs, and local and national governments to identify threats, research needs, and conservation opportunities for marine wildlife and their critical habitats.

As part of the award, Dr. Graham will attend and present her field research efforts in Panama’s Guna Yala region at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums National Conference.

“I am deeply honored and extremely grateful for this award and look forward to presenting MarAlliance’s work with local fishing communities in Panama’s indigenous Guna Yala region at the conference,” Dr. Graham said. “It highlights our strong partnership with local communities to identify conservation opportunities for marine wildlife and responds to the needs of the communities who live among them and are the true wildlife guardians,” she continued.

The presentation will take on Sunday, September 23, 2018 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, WA. The session is open to all conference attendees.

ZCOG and the Friends of the Chattanooga Zoo established the Patrick Jones Chattanooga Zoo Conservation Award in 1999 honoring the memory of Patrick Jones, a longtime friend and volunteer of the Chattanooga Zoo.

Sharks International: MarAlliance shares a breadth of results and information on sharks and rays


Sharks International attendees, © Dirceu Tortorello

The start of June saw MarAlliance experts presenting exciting results from our collective shark and ray research efforts at the Sharks International conference – aka the World Cup of Sharks – in Joao Pessao, northeastern Brazil. This shark science and conservation marathon couldn’t have been more timely with both World Environment Day (June 5th) and World Oceans Day (June 8th) taking place that same week.

MarAlliance’s Team represented strongly with results from projects in five countries showcased to over 500 scientists through the lens of six posters and seven oral presentations, many side meetings and, last but not least, a remarkable keynote address by our Executive Director, Dr. Rachel Graham, one of two women scientists invited to give a keynote address at the conference.

Dr. Rachel Graham’s keynote address grabbing the audience attention, © Dirceu Tortorello

Dr. Graham engaged the audience fully by addressing sensitive topics essential to the well-being and sustainability of the global shark research and conservation community. Her address highlighted how shark research and conservation efforts in lower and middle income countries are rightfully transitioning from North-South parachute science and conservation initiatives (which doesn’t build local capacities nor has long-term benefits to the animals, local scientists, or communities) to “south-south” partnerships with local scientists and communities to deliver more durable and grassroots-led science and conservation. She stressed the importance of engaging with local stakeholders before barreling into conservation decision-making, notably when working with fishers “as fishermen have PhDs of the sea and can be wonderful research partners.” Dr. Graham also emphasized outreach is “not a dirty word” and is key to ensure our science has impact. Such efforts to engage with multiple audiences not only enabled MarAlliance to create ambassadors in the fishing and coastal communities who now engage with politicians on conservation topics, but it has also successfully fed our partners’ curiosity and has generated local pride in marine wildlife. She asked the delegates to practice “more inclusion and kindness” at all levels in their work and discussed the challenges for women juggling careers and families in shark science and conservation and the need to find a balance and happiness as this work is often hard, occasionally dangerous and definitely a long-term commitment. By doing so, Dr Graham finally gave a voice to these issues, which have impeded so many women following this path.

Oral presentation on the “Baseline assessment of the coastal elasmobranch fauna of eastern Cabo Verde using baited remote underwater video”

Seven oral presentations spanning several seas and many communities,  highlighted MarAlliance’s participatory research. Incorporating fishers’ sawfish observations in Panama, monitoring with artisanal fishers sharks in the shark sanctuary in Honduras, and insights into the trade and consumption of sharks and rays in Honduras during the Lenten Season were a few of the talks given. Other topics addressed included the movement of grey reef sharks around two grouper spawning aggregations in Micronesia, ecological niche modelling of mantas distribution in the Western Central Atlantic Ocean and deep sea sharks of Meso-America threatened by fisheries interest. Our research in these areas are all providing information to create or refine management measures and prevent further depletion of shark and ray populations.

Panama Country Coordinator Megan Chevis won a professional poster award

The breadth of our work was recognized as Panama Country Coordinator, Megan Chevis, received a professional poster award for the poster entitled Elasmobranch communities on Panama’s Caribbean coast: fisheries-independent monitoring in the Bocas del Toro and Guna Yala archipelagos by Chevis, Leyson, Batista and Graham.

While Sharks International finally wrapped for most of the team, our colleagues from Cabo Verde concluded their trip by putting theory into practice in several Brazilian classrooms. Country Coordinator Zeddy Seymour and Fisher and Field Associate Zé Luís Monteiro visited public schools in João Pessoa as part of expanding the reach of Sharks International and educating about sharks and marine conservation. They relished the chance to speak to kids about attitudes towards sharks, the ocean and the future and reached over 300 kids and eight teachers in two days with new ties forged across the Atlantic between Boavista and Cabo Verde.

Cabo Verde Country Coordinator inspiring Brazilian youth to become marine wildlife champions

After a successful 2018 edition, our team very much looks forward to the next Sharks International conference in 2022 which will be hosted by colleagues in Valencia, Spain. In the interim we have much to do to secure a future for sharks and rays.

Gaby Ochoa, Honduras Country Coordinator and Ivy Baremore, Technical Coordinator

Can’t get enough shark science? Take a peek at our scientific posters:

MarAlliance team at Sharks International

MarAlliance’s World Oceans Day activities mobilized the next generations of decision-makers


Boa Vista’s next generation of ocean activists

The Ocean is rising and so are we! Every year, on the 8th of June the world celebrates World Oceans Day to highlight its importance for the survival of our blue planet. MarAlliance joined the global movement with activities that spanned the Atlantic Ocean, from Cabo Verde to the Caribbean. From art activities, to marches and media engagement, our support for World Oceans Day was all encompassing.

Cabo Verde

“Together we have the power to protect the oceans”

In the remote island chain of Cabo Verde, off the coast of West Africa, Boa Vista’s streets were flooded by its next generation of ocean activists! When MarAlliance organized a sister march for them to raise their voices in support of the oceans, hundreds of happy kids showed up because “together we can protect the oceans”. This event was made possible thanks to the cooperation of schools, national police, the Boavista town hall, the ministry of Agriculture and Environment and protected areas system in Cabo Verde.



Holy Cross Anglican School students sending a message to Washington DC

Our Belize outreach team worked with students from San Pedro R.C. School and Holy Cross School Belize to share the  importance of healthy populations of sharks and rays for a healthy ocean through interactive games and art. The Holy Cross students even helped to organize an aerial photo shoot to wish all those participating in the global March for the Ocean (M4O) in Washington DC and the San Pedro RC students got their hands dirty to show they are #Crazy4TheOcean! We met and soundly encouraged some fearless marine wildlife champions!


Working with such enthusiastic and creative students is extremely gratifying as, through the course of our long-term commitment to education and outreach, we are seeing these students grow up to become dedicated ambassadors for the ocean.



MarAlliance Honduras staff getting ready for an interview in the Teledisa studio

During this Oceans week we also took to the airwaves with staff members Ely Augustinus and María José Coello Chandias making headlines on national radio and television in Honduras. Caracol Radio and Teledisa invited our colleagues for an interview about #WorldOceansDay and the country’s marine achievements and challenges to date.

Getting back down to earth, MarAlliance and partners also supported the Roatan Reef Guardians Ocean Day of fun in honor of the Oceans, which included kids activities, live music and a workshop on conservation and the prevention of pollution of the reef.

These activities engaged many sectors of the public in several sites and countries and were made possible thanks to the generous contributions of our donors who help us to keep the marine conservation torch aflame and prepare the next generation to carry it.

MarAlliance at Sharks International


Our Belize experts and Betto the shark are ready for the conference!

Great MarAlliance representation at the Olympics of Sharks Conference: eight of our staff are sharing the results of their work conducted with sharks and rays in six countries with over 600 delegates attending the quadrennial Sharks International conference held in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

Over the course of the conference week, the team is giving eight presentations and six scientific posters not including a keynote address by our Executive Director Dr. Rachel Graham. We are very much looking forward to learning about new science and sharing results with our shark research and conservation peers and with you! Follow us for sharky news via our Twitter feed at #MarAtSharks2018.

Our MarAlliance experts will unveil sightings of a species thought to be regionally extinct. They will also discuss our long-term community-based monitoring of sharks and rays and how we are the first organization who involves fishers in shark research and large scale behavioral-change projects to engage them in marine wildlife conservation. Top scientists will cover topics which include recommendations on the reduction of unsustainable fishing gear, protection of critical pupping, nursing and feeding habitats, to sharing strategies on how to reverse declines in marine megafauna populations.

You can find us here:
Presentations and posters will also be available to download below in due course.


Poster sessions: 17:30-19:30

Poster 076: Ivy Baremore – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)
| Ivy E. Baremore, Rachel T. Graham

Poster 108: Rachel T Graham – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)
WAIT, WE’RE STILL ALIVE! CONTEMPORARY PERSISTENCE OF SAWFISH (Pristis spp.) IN HONDURAS| Ely Augustinus, Rachel Graham,  Gabriela Ochoa

Francesco Garzon, graduate student

Poster 116: Francesco Garzon – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)
POPULATION ASSESSMENT OF NURSE SHARKS (ginglymostoma cirratum) IN BELIZE| Francesco Garzon, Rachel Graham, Ivy Baremore, Zeddy Seymour, Brendan Godley, Cynthia Xiu, Thomas Meyer, Matthew Witt, Lucy Hawkes



08:30: KEYNOTE ADDRESS – Main Auditorium (Sérgio Bernardes)

Dr. Rachel Graham – Are we turning the tide for sharks and rays? Science and conservation impact for elasmobranchs

09:30: Oral presentation – Main Auditorium (Sérgio Bernardes)

ID 188 | I’m not dead yet: a historical and contemporary overview of sawfish distribution and persistence in Panama – Megan Chevis, Ana Batista, Leyson Navarro, Rachel Graham

11:45: Oral presentation – Auditorium 2 (Cabedelo)

ID 506 | Home range, movement and trophic opportunism of grey reef sharks, Carcharhinus amblyrhinchos, around two grouper (Epinephelidae) spawning aggregations in Pohnpei, Micronesia – Rachel Graham, K. L. Rhodes, I. E. Baremore

16:15: Oral presentation – Main Auditorium (Sérgio Bernardes)

ID 111 | Beyond boundaries: Ecological niche modelling of Manta ray distribution in the Western Central Atlantic Ocean – Francesco Garzon, Rachel T. Graham, Lucy Hawkes, Stephen Pikesley, Matthew Witt

16:30: Oral presentation – Main Auditorium (Sérgio Bernardes)

ID 481 | Differences in elasmobranch density and abundance in the Bay Islands of Honduras – Gabriela Ochoa, Ely Augustinus, Rachel T. Graham, Ivy Baremore

Poster sessions: 17:15 – 19:30

Gabriela Ochoa, Honduras Country Coordinator

Poster 162: Gaby Ochoa – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)

Poster 163: Zeddy Seymour – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)


Megan Chevis, Panama Country Coordinator

Poster 169: Megan Chevis – Exhibit Hall (Parahyba)






09:15: Oral presentation – Auditorium 2 (Cabedelo)

Zé Lois, Cabo Verde Fisher and Field Associate (left), Zeddy Seymour, Cabo Verde Country Coordinator (right), Cintia the tubarão-tigre (middle)

ID 518 | It’s not all about shark fins and fin soup: Sale and consumption of sharks and rays in Honduras during the Lenten season – Rachel Graham, Ely Augustinus, Gabriela Ochoa.

10:00: Oral presentation – Auditorium 3 (Lucena)

ID 482 | Baseline assessment of the coastal elasmobranch fauna of eastern Cabo Verde using baited remote underwater video – Zeddy T. A. Seymour, Rachel T. Graham, Ivy E. Baremore, José Luís Monteiro

16:45: Oral presentation – Auditorium 3 (Lucena)

ID 268 | Distribution of deep-sea sharks in the MesoAmerican Region – Ivy E. Baremore, Ely Augustinus, Francisco Polanco-Vasquez, Rachel T. Graham

MarAlliance Research Associate, Simon Gulak (left)

Miskito Cays, unexplored marine wildlife under threat


The boat we used for monitoring at one of Miskito Cays’ many islets

The Miskito Cays in the far eastern stretches of Honduras known as La Moskitia, represent one of the last remote marine wildernesses in the Caribbean, and as we recently discovered, a veritable “wild west”of the sea. In search of answers on the status of marine megafauna in the Caribbean’s most difficult to access areas, the MarAlliance team recently conducted an expedition to these remote and sparsely inhabited islands.

Comprised of 49 small coral islands and sandbars spanning an area of 750 square km, the Miskito Cays are located 60km from the coast and are named after the region’s indigenous population, the Miskitos, who are subsistence fishers.

We interviewed Gaby Ochoa, MarAlliance’s Honduras Country Coordinator, about the importance of the region and its marine wildlife.

Why does MarAlliance work in the Miskito Cays?

Sharks are important to the reef’s ecosystem. This photo shows critically endangered elkhorn coral.

Gaby: Since 2016, our research associate Ely Augustinus ran a series of preliminary market and shark fishing surveys with Miskito fishers which all pointed to the fact that shark fishery was taking place in that area. We became very interested in collecting data in this remote area, primarily because no baseline surveys of the marine megafauna, like sharks and rays, had been done before. Previous monitoring by others was not very inclusive, which made the fishers uninterested in participating in any research. Our experience in engaging local fisher communities has helped us to be more sustainable. We have worked closely with indigenous Miskito fishers to ensure they are part of this endeavor. If you want to make an impact, you need to work alongside communities, which is why we started monitoring the life beneath the surface with these key partners on our side.

Can you draw a picture of the current situation of this reef for sharks and rays?

MarAlliance team heading back after a successful monitoring day

Gaby: The reef falls under the permanent shark sanctuary legislation, which protects both the country’s Atlantic and Pacific sharks and entered into force in 2011. Unfortunately, an amendment to this legislation in 2016, stipulates that every shark caught incidentally during fishing can be used for sale. This amendment turned into a loophole, that is becoming increasingly visual in the run up to the country’s religious festivities of the Semana Santa (holy week or Easter week). Shark meat is first salted and then dried to be sold for a popular soup during lent. From January until Easter, we noticed fisheries directly targeting endangered hammerhead sharks and boats returning daily to the fishing camps filled with over 100 sharks each. Moreover, rays do not fall under this regulation.

During the fishing season, the region’s fishermen are all out at sea. Both artisanal and industrial fisheries are active in the area; it is the artisanal fishing that is detrimental to the shark populations who are so important to the marine ecosystem.

What does our work in the area entail?

Deploying a baited remote underwater video

Gaby: We received the go ahead of the Consejo Consultivo of La Mosquitia, a local government agency, to do the first ever fisheries-independent baseline survey in the area. We trained local fishers how to take part in the survey. For this, we deployed 45 baited remote underwater video (BRUV) stations. It will take some time to go over all this footage, determine all the species and pin down the numbers of our first baseline survey, but I am expecting results to come out in July this year. Having watched some of the footage already, my first observation would be that this might be an area for juvenile sharks, and that it might have more shark sightings than other places surveyed in the country so far! However, proper analysis will give us a better picture.

What are the challenges for marine conservation in the Miskito Cays?

Gaby: For conservation to succeed in the area, the shark sanctuary legislation needs to be followed more closely as well as better enforced. More research is needed on which species and how many of them the fishers are actually catching. Lastly, close ongoing cooperation with the local fisher communities, the government and grassroots associations such as the Miskitu Asla Takanka are crucial to achieving success.

What is your wish for the future?

Gaby: The monitoring activities made us aware that there is much more work and research to be done. What we discovered is only the top of the iceberg. Moreover, we made community commitments to work together to better understand the status of shark fisheries and marine health. We would love to keep these commitments by continuing our work in the area.

Meet the MarAlliance Honduras team!

This project is funded by Houston Zoo and Fly Fish Guanaja.

Panama’s Guna Yala local fishers become champions for marine resources management


Lionfish have 18 venomous spines that are capable of easily penetrating human skin and delivering a painful sting.
Photo: Rachel Graham

We are scared of lionfish, they will kill us if we eat them!” This local fisherman’s testimony was echoed by his fellow fishers during a knowledge exchange workshop with Mexican and Belizean counterparts organized by MarAlliance in Guna Yala.

MarAlliance’s ongoing lionfish and marine megafauna project in Panama’s indigenous Guna Yala region answers a real need from the local community who called on the organization’s marine expertise to help them manage the invasive yet as they soon discovered, very tasty lionfish (Pterois volitans).

The fishers didn’t know how to best deal with lionfish that are originally from the Indo Pacific and were accidentally introduced to the Caribbean over 30 years ago. These fish are detrimental to the region’s ecosystem as they outcompete other species for space and food resources and have no natural predators. This is putting local marine ecosystems already stressed by rising temperatures and pollution under further pressure.

“Fishers from the region wanted to know how to better manage lionfish,” confirmed MarAlliance Panama Country Coordinator Megan Chevis, “By enabling them to do that, they are simultaneously contributing to a better management of all marine resources.”

The project is being rolled out on several islands in the region, including Aglidub, Uwargandup, Nargana and Caimau Islands. It encompasses a three-pronged approach, the first component entails training of local traditional fishers to safely capture lionfish. MarAlliance then added two more components following further community engagement and interest in understanding the health of their seas: an annual standardized monitoring of marine megafauna and  a program of education and awareness through interactive presentations and activities with students.

“As many traditionally consumed fish species have been overfished in the Guna Yala, lionfish fisheries could bolster the comarca’s food security both directly through removal and consumption, and indirectly, by increasing the survival of juveniles of other species of fish” noted Dr. Rachel Graham, Executive Director of MarAlliance.  

“You have to cut off the spines at their base so you get all the venom,” Mexican fisher Henry Mezquita tells to his audience, “then you fillet it like you would any other fish.” Photo: Rachel Graham

MarAlliance’s work in the Guna Yala region aims to empower its community members, encouraging them to see lionfish as a source of food and convincing them that sharks and other big fish are invaluable to the sea’s wellbeing. For this project, Mexican and Belizean fishers joined workshops and exchanged knowledge with their Guna counterparts on how to catch, handle and consume lionfish in order to create demand for this fish. Additionally, the MarAlliance team also trained eight local fishers and captains on monitoring methods during a two-week period.

“An important part of this project is involving and training local fishers,” said Ms Chevis, “Community engagement from the very start helps ensure our projects are sustainable and locally supported. With communities’ requests, we hope we can expand our work to other islands in the region,” she concluded.  


MarAlliance runs this project in collaboration with the Centro de Desarrollo Ambiental y Humano (CENDAH) and is supported by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Conservation Food & Health Foundation, and the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment Fund. Permission for the project was granted by the Congreso General Kuna.


New shark species discovered!


New shark species discovered!

Our research on deep sea sharks yielded surprising results, which were published recently in the journal Marine Biodiversity. Collaborating with scientists from the Florida Institute of Technology, Florida State University, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, we found that the bigeye sixgill sharks – previously thought to be one species world-wide – are actually two different species in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. These sharks, which have six gill openings rather than the typical five most sharks have, are among the oldest lineages of sharks, dating back more than 250 million years, and are found exclusively in the deep sea. Although their deep range makes them difficult to study, they are already being negatively impacted by fishing, so this finding is important for the conservation of the species. The new name, the Atlantic sixgill shark, goes along with a new taxonomic designation: Hexanchus vitulus. The findings of this research have been shared widely, with news coverage from outlets like Newsweek, Science Daily, Smithsonian, Atlas Obscura, and others.

See the links below:

Daily Mail

News story from Daily Mail on Tuesday 27 February 2018

Daily Mail,

A terrifying species of shark that dwells in the depths of the ocean has been discovered by researchers.