red coral image

SCUBA divers are helping researchers to monitor sharks

Share this:

04 December 2015
Embargo: Wednesday 23 April 5pm EST
Recreational dive guides can help researchers to keep track of changes in shark populations, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
The study compared counts of sharks reported by professional dive guides with automated counts generated by sharks tagged with acoustic tags at popular dive sites in Palau, Micronesia. The data from the dive guides, who monitored sharks over 5 years in more than 1000 dives, closely mirrored results from the tags, showing that the guides were accurate and reliable observers – and in some cases even better than the high-tech tags.
Excitingly, data from the dive guides showed clear preferences by reef sharks for particular water temperatures and current regimes on the reef – information that wasn't revealed by the tags.
This study supports the use of citizen science- an increasingly popular strategy that aims to engage regular citizens- in the data collection for shark research.
Lead author Gabriel Vianna said that while earlier studies had used citizen science to investigate trends in shark populations, this is the first independent, long-term assessment of the quality of this type of data.
"Citizen science projects are becoming increasingly popular for the scientific community and general public. However, there is still some controversy about the reliability of the results they produce" Mr. Vianna said.
"Our study shows that with a little bit of training, experienced recreational divers can collect very useful data that can be used to monitor shark populations over broad areas and long periods of time at minimal cost".
Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, a co-author of the study, said "these findings are important because they show partnerships between scientists and the diving industry may allow the establishment of low-cost research projects that can assist the conservation of sharks at popular diving destinations".
"This is particularly important for many developing countries and island nations that rely on marine tourism. Reef sharks are being heavily overfished and at the same time the lack of financial resources for monitoring shark populations hampers efforts for conservation."
This project was part of a collaboration between researchers from UWA, AIMS, the Micronesian Shark Foundation and was supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation.
Journal: PLOS ONE
Media contacts:
Gabriel Vianna UWA School of Animal Biology and Oceans Institute; Australian Institute of Marine Science +61 (0) 431 559 147,
Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science, +61 (0) 429 101 812,
Guiomar Duarte UWA Oceans Institute +61 (8) 64959545,