April is one of our favorite months! Northern Spring is in full swing, which coincides with a drier climate in the tropics. The seas increasingly lay down and warm up, heralding amorous activity in the world of snappers and a precursor to the birth of sharks and rays. But for us, April holds a special place in our hearts because it’s when we really get stuck into our long-term monitoring field work on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef AND because it’s also the month when we celebrate our birthday. In fact April 2021 see us celebrating our 7th anniversary, and we truly believe that great things come in sevens.
Aside from the fact that the number 7 has great spiritual and religious meaning, and that it happens to coincide with the days of the week, the number of continents, and TE Lawrence’s Pillars of Wisdom, for us it coincides with the number of countries where we have had the privilege to work, our main projects, and the knowledge that as an organization, we have grown, become wiser through lessons learned and survived the challenges that befell so many in 2020. We have all made it through to this point. So, we have cause to celebrate.
For the last seven years we have improved local and national understanding and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats across several sites and countries, with a focus on sharks and rays in the MesoAmerican Reef (MAR). We have done so by filling critical knowledge gaps needed for management and decision-making, engaging and training fishers and future leaders in science to ensure locally installed capacities as opposed to conducting “colonial” or “parachuting” science, inspiring youth and the public to think differently about sharks, become stewards of marine wildlife and more savvy consumers. Ultimately, we have seen our work have impact and support decision-making: we have supported changes in the use of fishing gears to reduce threats to fish and fisheries, informed impact assessments, marine protected areas expansion and creation. We have brought attention to illegal transboundary trade and revealed the inherent vulnerabilities of threatened species such as hammerheads under high levels of exploitation. We look forward to unpacking many of these stories over the coming months and sharing with you the many facets of our shark research and conservation, from disappointments and lessons learnt, to the needle wavering to the right into victories that make our hearts sing and drive us forward.
So, what’s in store for us in 2021? We hope a relatively unfettered return to travel and field work where possible and safely conducted, and hopefully meetings with community partners, colleagues, and the public. We have much catching up to do. In April, we begin the large-scale monitoring of large marine wildlife in the Bay Islands of Honduras, as well as throughout Turneffe Atoll in Belize. These monitoring efforts will enable us to compare population abundance, diversity and distribution of sharks, rays, turtles and finfish across years and especially following the pandemic fishery closures and to help assess the effectiveness of Honduras’ Bay Islands Marine Reserve and the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve in the protection of key species from fishing.
MarAlliance would never have graduated from a baby’s crawl to our current feisty youngster’s gallop and accomplished any of our work nor managed through the pandemic without you, our committed partners and generous donors. Many of you have been with us from the start and have encouraged us mightily and even helped to guide our steps. For this, we thank you heartily and hope that you and all of our new allies for marine wildlife join us in the conservation journey this and future years.