April 23, 2021

Launch of Citizen Science Programme as part of Cayman Islands top marine predator project

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Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 9.31.33 AMResearchers from the Cayman Islands’ Department of Environment (DoE) and Marine Conservation International (MCI) are currently monitoring the shark, grouper and snapper populations around the Cayman Islands. The project is funded largely by a UK Darwin Plus award and will be supporting Cayman’s commitment to protecting and restoring key species and habitats. As part of this, MCI and the DoE in conjunction with CayBrew’s Whitetip beer have launched a Citizen Science Programme to give everyone the opportunity to get involved.

“We have created a hashtag so that every diver, snorkeler and fishermen can upload their photos of any shark, any grouper or any mutton or lagoon (grey) snappers onto Facebook and Twitter using the #SpotThatCayFish” said Dr. Mauvis Gore from MCI. This is a great opportunity for people to contribute to Cayman’s Top Marine Predator Project. To be able to understand the movement and seasonality of the fish, you need to include the dive or snorkel site, date, time of day, and to acknowledge your part in the programme – your name – in the post on #SpotThatCayFish. “In the next few weeks, we will distribute postcards to diving companies around Cayman so that visiting divers and snorkelers can also become involved” said MCI’s Johanna Kohler.

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Figure 1: Postcard which MCI will distribute to dive companies on Grand Cayman in the following weeks.

Sharks and large predatory fish like groupers, mutton snappers and even lagoon snappers play a key role in coral reef ecosystems because they control the numbers of smaller predators. “If there are too few top predators, it will have cascading effects down the food web disturbing the natural balance which will impact local fishing negatively” said DoE’s John Bothwell. “It’s why, under the National Conservation Law, sharks are now completely protected everywhere in Cayman waters.” Worldwide, sharks and large predatory fish have declined in numbers and likewise in the Cayman Islands. “Sharks in particular, are vulnerable to fishing because they grow very slowly, mature late, and generally have only a few pups per birth” said Johanna Kohler. Therefore, monitoring of top marine predator populations is crucial to ensure healthy reefs and sustainable fishing in the Cayman Islands.

The photos from the Citizen Science Programme will be used to identify individual fish which allows the researchers to estimate their numbers, habitat and home range. “Divers and snorkelers take wonderful underwater photos and this is a chance for them to help Cayman’s marine environment themselves by uploading their photos using the SpotThatCayFish – hashtag. We will then catalogue the images of sharks, groupers, and snappers to place and time and then post the results on Facebook and Twitter” said Ms. Kohler.

To gather even more information, the research team has tagged dorsal fins of some sharks with orange tags which can be easily seen by divers or snorkelers. “We also use acoustic tags in the sharks and larger fish which enables us to track where they move to over time” said Dr. Gore. The pings emitted by the tags are recorded by acoustic receivers around each of the Cayman Islands.

Some fish, like lagoon snappers, will be tagged with beads which are placed in front of their dorsal fin so they are also easily seen by divers, snorkelers, and fishermen. “Lagoon snapper are a species of particular interest because they are heavily fished during their spawning season and a lot of concerned fishermen have been asking for sustainable management to be put in place for this species. As part of the project DoE and MCI will be talking with fishermen about that – what they catch; where, when and how much, and what they think good management options might be – but we also need more information than we can get from the fishermen alone” explained Mr. Bothwell.

“If you catch any tagged fish and don’t have a camera please contact us through the DoE,” said Ms. Kohler, “as it’s important we know where they ended up. We also offer a reward for the return of acoustic tags”. The team can be contacted by telephoning 949 8469 and by email to [email protected] or [email protected] “And pictures of any sharks or fish, especially those with tags, can be uploaded with the hashtag #SpotThatCayFish.”

For more information about this research and the reward programme, visit www.doe.ky and www.marineconservationinternational.org. For updates on the Top Marine Predator Project and the Citizen Science Programme visit and like the Facebook page “Shark & Cetaceans: The Cayman Islands” and follow @MCI_Cayman on Twitter. Use the #SpotThatCayFish to upload your pictures and provide the following information: dive or snorkel site, date, time of day, your name.

NOTES

Darwin Plus: www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative
The Darwin Initiative is a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment in developing countries and UK Overseas Territories (OTs). Darwin-funded projects usually aim to help preserve biodiversity and the local community that lives alongside it. The Darwin Plus is awarded for work in the Overseas Territories.

The Cayman Islands Department of Environment: www.doe.ky
DoE is responsible for the management and conservation of the natural environment and resources, including the management of the Marine Protected Area system. In carrying out its remit, the department liaises with government, private-sector and civic stakeholders. The DoE works collaboratively with several academic and research institutions around the world and has been the beneficiary of five Darwin Awards, including this one.

Marine Conservation International: www.marineconservationinternational.org
MCI is a partnership formed by marine scientists to focus on high-priority marine conservation objectives. Its offices are Edinburgh. Co-directors Dr Mauvis Gore and Professor Rupert Ormond are former senior UK university staff (York and London Universities), and both currently hold honorary professorships and senior lectureships at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Between the two of them, MCI has completed more than 100 projects in some 50 different countries (mostly in the Middle-East Indian Ocean and Caribbean) with funding from governments, NGOs, grant-giving bodies and commercial organisations.

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