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 the Western Caribbean.

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

1. Belize

With 18 years of experience working with large fish, turtles, MPAs, fisheries, and the tourism sector in Belize, this is the base for MarAlliance’s work with large iconic marine wildlife and the communities that depend on them. Our multi-pronged approach to big fish conservation integrates fisheries-dependent and -independent research, tourism, outreach and education, capacity building, and policy support.

Belize Shark Project Website

An endangered scalloped hammerhead shark cruises near the reefs of Roatan, Honduras (Mickey Charteris)

2. Honduras

A moratorium on fishing sharks declared in 2011 has left the country without
a baseline for sharks and rays (collectively known as elasmobranchs). International convention requirements still require status information that we provide with our monitoring methods. Capacity building, income diversification, and outreach complement research and monitoring with our partners.

Tiburones de Honduras

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

3. 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.

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

4. Mexico

Quintana Roo possesses over 500km of the MesoAmerican Reef and hosts key aggregation sites for two iconic megafauna, the whale shark and manta ray, that are the focus of studies with partners. From 2013 we established permanent sites where we conduct standardized long-term monitoring of coastal and reef-associated marine megafauna with several partners.

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

5. 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 are expanding the methods and project to other sites to create the baselines necessary for monitoring sharks and rays.

Tiburones de Cuba

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

6. Panama

Despite a ban on shark finning in its territorial waters, there is limited information on large marine wildlife and no information on sharks and rays on the Caribbean coast of Panama. We are collecting historical and contemporary information on elasmobranch fisheries and conducting the country’s first fisher surveys and fisheries-independent baseline of large marine wildlife along the Caribbean coast.

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

7. 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 are assessing the spatio-temporal use of the banks by manta rays using photo ID, acoustic and satellite tagging.

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

8. 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.

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

9. 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 assessment of sharks and rays in Cabo Verde. This work gives us a platform to support grassroots-developed management and conservation measures and the basis for exploring the spatial ecology of large and highly migratory elasmobranchs.