Citizen science: Discovering the true value of sharks

Citizen Science: Knowing is caring

They say the more you know, the more you care. It can be hard to care and value the unknown or even feared. To this day, unfortunately, many people still fear sharks. Spreading and creating shared knowledge is the basis for community and citizen science. It is an inclusive tool for everyone to become a knowledge bearer. It strengthens communities, and it also empowers them to partake in decision making and management of community resources to improve their livelihoods.

The fishers in Isla Mujeres are doing exactly that. They are partaking in citizen science while being compensated to save sharks. It turns out that lives are transformed when traditional shark fishers give up their trade to become shark biologists, conservationists, and guides to dive with sharks.

The Value(s) of Community Science and Knowledge

The Isla Mujeres Shark Initiative is composed of the Kab Xok and Huachisan cooperatives who have teamed up to keep sharks off hooks and instead monitor them to keep them alive.

At the beginning of the project, the fishers shared that they were scared and believed “bad karma” would come to them for all the sharks they have fished in the past. But today, they are the core monitors who ensure that sharks are protected around Isla Mujeres. The basis of this new relationship to sharks is Citizen Science. Their new job, instead of fishing sharks, consists of daily activities for collecting data and shifting their knowledge base to conservation. The new skills include shark biological monitoring, ecology, shark tagging and measuring, english classes, scuba diving certifications, and many more. Working in collaboration with local researchers and institutions like INAPESCA and CONANP, together they inform decision making and conservation strategies for conservation within the Mexican Biosphere Conservation Reserve. They apply all their shark and local knowledge to report shark sightings and keep sharks alive instead of fishing them.

Increasing Awareness on the Value of Sharks

This innovative and committed approach to conservation is already saving sharks and is proving transformational to both fishing communities’ and sharks’ livelihoods. Without a doubt it is also influencing tourism experiences and inspiring others to take action. Fishers are shifting from an extractive approach of viewing sharks as a fishing resource, to a restorative approach where sharks are valued as an ecological and ecotourism resource. This “new value” has led to engagement in shark conservation like their livelihoods depended on it. Because it does. And so does the health of our oceans.

Fisher Cooperatives Collect Data for Shark Science

Sharks are valuable and vulnerable species. The Kab Xok and Huachisan cooperatives are working to reinstate the true value of sharks. They are collecting data, learning and teaching their community about the value of these apex species for the health of the ocean and reef systems, and for their livelihoods. They are now designing their sustainable business focused on sharks being kept alive and centering their knowledge on creating ecotourism experiences for visitors to Isla Mujeres who want to experience shark diving or snorkeling, partake in citizen science activities, visit a shark research center, and partake in a more sustainable tourism.

Support Shark Heroes and Empower Communities

If you find yourself inspired by the commitment of the fishermen, otherwise known as the “Masters of the Sea”, let them know by sharing this post.  You too can become a Shark Hero and support their science based efforts just sign up here to learn more, support their research or adopt a shark.

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Support the Masters of the Sea in creating a future where fishers become protectors of sharks.