eShark: A global network of shark heroes

eShark: A global network of shark heroes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

eShark: A global network of shark heroes. Image Unsplash

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Guest Post by: Dr. Christine Ward-Paige, founder of eOceans

For the last 12 years, scuba divers and other ocean explorers around the world have been logging their ocean observations to help sharks through the project “eShark™”. These data have been used to inform science and policy and have helped save a lot of sharks. Now, for the first time, eShark is using a mobile app — eOceans® — to rapidly expand shark science to all oceans and coastlines, with the help of all ocean explorers, in real-time. Please join us! 

What is eShark? 

eShark tracks shark populations, including their threats and where they are thriving, around the world using observations made by all ocean explorers — divers, snorkelers, surfers, sailors, fishers, beachgoers, etc. 

For 12 years, divers and other ocean explorers have been sharing their observations to eShark through a number of projects, including The Great Fiji Shark Count, eShark Thailand in partnership with Shark Guardian, eManta, Shark Sanctuary Evaluation, and more. 

eShark results have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and have been used to inform CITES listings (sharks and rays), shark sanctuary policies, marine protected areas, IUCN RedList Status, and initiated many other conservation conversations. 

Today, powered by the new eOceans mobile app, eShark is positioned to radically scale the data and information we are able to gather and process to profoundly maximize our impact and ability to save sharks – and the people and ecosystems that depend on them.  

The beginning of eShark

eShark stemmed from my PhD where I conducted a 5-year in-depth investigation on the value and limitations of using scuba divers observations to describe coastal and reef shark and ray populations. I interviewed thousands of scuba divers around the world, conducted many field surveys, performed analysis of large citizen science data repositories, and built computer simulations to understand how divers detect sharks. 

With the help of all the scuba divers who participated in this work, we revealed that: 

  1. Divers, even beginners with just 20 dives in their life, can detect and count sharks just as well as the experts. 
  2. Local explorers with an interest in what they see can identify most sharks and rays just as well as the experts.. 
  3. Recreational divers’ observations can inform science and policy. 

Really, anyone that can see the ocean and wants to participate can easily do so. 

Scuba divers saving sharks and manta rays

Three eShark projects had important outcomes. 

Sharks in Thailand & Fiji — eShark Thailand and the Great Fiji Shark Count were two community-led projects that were supported by eShark. In both countries, the dive tourism industry loves and depends on sharks — people fly from around the world to see their sharks. Dive operators and guides were concerned, however, that sharks were becoming rare and disappearing from many sites. In both countries, we set up community logbooks for dive guides and their guests to log all their dives with observations. 

Divers logged over 200,000 sharks on 45,000 dives from over 700 sites and enabled us to capture the first nation-wide descriptions of sharks in both countries. 

Because we collected the zeros – dives when no sharks were present – we were uniquely able to describe shark seasonality and hotspot locations, including for critically endangered shark species. This is not only important for designing conservation and tracking populations, but also can help divers optimize their trips for seeing sharks. 

Our results have, so far, initiated new research, conservation, policy, and other relevant conversations to protect sharks and the future of diving.

Saving manta rays — eManta gathered over 600,000 observations from expert scuba divers in 90 regions of the world. They reported mantas alive in the wild (including zeros), where they were being fished, and where they were being sold in the markets.

We compared these to catch records, and found that although only two countries reported catching manta rays that they were actually caught and sold in markets around the world — revealing that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) with international trade was threatening manta rays with extinction. 

This evidence supported them being listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to control their trade. And, this was further strengthened in 2021

Evaluating Shark Sanctuaries – Shark sanctuaries are one of many shark protection strategies — they prohibit fishers from targeting sharks and anyone from possessing sharks or shark parts, such as fins or meat, across a nation’s waters and lands. 

Shark sanctuaries were receiving mixed reviews – relatively easy to implement and enforce (e.g., cannot possess shark fins within the borders) or a paper park that provided little protection to sharks. 

Scuba divers in 38 countries recorded their observations and perceptions from over 660,000 dives – including shark abundance, diversity, threats, and more. We also examined reported fish catch. 

We found that many countries targeted sharks when fishing in shark sanctuary countries. So, shark sanctuaries had the potential to save a lot of sharks by stopping targeted shark fishing. On the other hand, divers’ observations found that fishing was still prevalent and, therefore, accidental shark catch (bycatch) was still an important threat. They also reported that ghost gear, plastic pollution, and climate change were still important threats that were not addressed by shark sanctuary policies. 

These insights helped close loopholes and build new shark sanctuaries and other conservation policies that learned from past policies. 

Divers and ocean explorers have saved a lot of sharks and rays. 

eOceans mobile app to massively scale impact for sharks

eOceans is a purpose-built platform that has a mobile app for ocean explorers to log observations and learn about the ocean and expert-developed analytics and display that enables us to track trends in real-time. 

eShark is using the eOceans app to collect all ocean observations. 

With eOceans, all data contributors own their observations and can easily contribute to eShark while seamlessly sharing with any other projects they want to share with. eOceans can support projects tracking any of over 200,000 species, any type of pollution, and any social value. 

You can think of using the app as your dive log, fishing log, vessel log, etc. then log your observations to keep track for you, while also amplifying your effort for science and sharks. 

The app works offline, anywhere in the world, for any ocean activity, such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, surfing, sailing, beach walking, SUP, ferries, and more. 

Be a Shark Hero — Easy as 1-2-3 

If you dive, surf, snorkel, sail, fish, or explore the ocean for any activity that has the chance of seeing a shark you can help eShark and sharks.

  1. Download the eOceans mobile app on Android or iOS and create an account. 
  1. Log your activities & observations – even if you don’t see sharks. Don’t forget to log observations of pollution too. 
  1. Upload your data – the mobile app works offline so you’ll need to make sure your data are uploaded to the cloud when you connect to WiFi or cellular data services. 

eOceans — For the ocean. For us.

Read Christine’s other articles:

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