MarAlliance improves the understanding and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, notably sharks and rays on the Mesoamerican reef. To do this, we create new knowledge by monitoring the abundance and characteristics of species in key sites. We train local fishermen to help us at sea and engage our local communities to obtain information on sightings of important species. We share this knowledge in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in pre-schools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers. Through this, we hope to inspire a sense of wonder about the ocean, to promote sustainable tourism and to foster the effectiveness of marine protected areas.
Working with stakeholders, from fishers and other NGOs to government institutions, we identify the science needed to support management and conservation efforts and build local scientific capacities while undertaking research and long-term monitoring. We are precautionary in our approach, as evidenced by whale shark science conducted in several countries, finfish spawning aggregation research in Belize and Micronesia, shark and ray fisheries-dependent and -independent science, deep sea fisheries research in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and assessments of protected areas’ effectiveness for large mobile fish.
Marine wildlife, such as sharks, rays, finfish, turtles and a host of other less iconic species, need refuge from the near constant threat of fishing; if not for their entire life-cycle, at least for part of it. Fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs) are one of the most important fish management methods in the conservation toolbox. A global goal has been set to fully protect 10% of the world’s seas by 2020. Currently, there are 6,500 MPAs protecting just over 2% of the world’s seas. MarAlliance identifies and recommends potential marine sites for protection and works with the managers, staff and a cohort of fishers from 13 protected areas in five countries to identify and integrate protective measures for large fish.
Fostering Behavioral Change
Understanding the drivers of fishing and marine resource use is key to identifying management and conservation strategies. Using a host of survey approaches, from structured to semi-structured, retrospective to pre/post as well as online surveys, MarAlliance has collected multi-faceted data on a range of fronts. We have identified the status of sawfish, derived value for whale shark watching and shark diving, characterized fisheries for sharks and rays, identified fisheries trends for goliath grouper, restaurant preferences for fin-fish species, and more. Results from these surveys have been returned to stakeholders to tailor outreach, improve tourism management efforts for species, protected areas, and wildlife, and have supported legislative reform.
We believe in the power of many to tackle conservation needs. We build social capital for marine wildlife conservation by linking the various skillsets held by partners through well-defined collaborations and networks. With these we are able to better understand, manage and protect the migratory marine species we work with and increase conservation impact. MarAlliance has established local and international networks of partners to replicate and scale up research and outreach efforts to leverage greater conservation outcomes for marine wildlife. In 2013 we created a network of marine megafauna monitoring practitioners in the MesoAmerican Reef countries and the region (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras). This network now includes 24 partners, with several now leading local monitoring efforts. In November 2015, we founded the Caribbean Chondrichthyan Network (CCN) with 39 partners from the Caribbean region’s NGO, governmental, private and research sectors to better address the regional declines in elasmobranch populations and foster both collaborative science and policy reform.
Creating a large cohort of marine wildlife stakeholders who can understand and conduct scientific research and monitoring is critical to sustaining conservation. Students, fishers and partners take part in short- and long-term marine courses, learning how to develop hypotheses, collect, analyze and interpret field data. We further build partner skills in strategic planning, conservation and messaging, and advanced data analyses. Participants are then encouraged and, where possible, supported to train their peers in a highly successful ‘peer-to-peer training program’ that encourages the horizontal spread of knowledge and skills, further building the social capital underpinning large marine wildlife conservation.
The sea and its large marine wildlife need many champions to mitigate the many impacts of unsustainable fisheries, climate change, pollution, unregulated development and more. We work with all sectors of society to inform, educate and enthuse them with appreciation for the sea. MarAlliance helps identify and foster the talents of the next generation of marine scientists and decision-makers by introducing students to marine science and sharks through the MAR kids/Niños del MAR Program. We inform the public and engage them through events, activities and social media to become marine stewards and make better consumer choices for seafood.