Marjorie Cattaneo Fernandes was a scientist I met over ResearchGate (Are you a scientist? Sign up if you haven't already to share your research. And if you're keen, add TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez on there), and I was immediately interested in her research and passion.
She graciously said yes to being interviewed for the #BehindtheFins segment, commenting that it was a great opportunity to talk about something that really matters and to promote the latest news into shark conservation. Lets just dive into this interview-- it's a great one, guys.
The Fins United Initiative: So, Marjorie, what are you currently studying?
Marjorie Cattaneo Fernandes: I am [currently] studying marine diversity in the Chagos Marine Reserve and the Palau Shark Sanctuary. My research focus [is] on assessing underwater communities using a new non-destructive and non-invasive technique to monitor shark and other pelagic species diversity in order to evaluate these marine reserves.
TFUI: Can you tell us about how these two areas are fairing health-wise?
MCF: The Chagos Marine Reserve is a large group of atolls containing approximately 55 islands in the central Indian Ocean (6°S, 71.5°E). The reserve is managed as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
In 2010, the UK government established the world’s largest no-take marine reserve (640.000 km2) in order to protect the territory’s marine biodiversity. This reserve contains about 50% of the healthy reefs remaining in the Indian Ocean but also important pelagic habitat including seamounts, ridges and trenches recognized as hotspots of pelagic fish and shark's biodiversity. Historical pelagic fishing targeted tuna species, such as the skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna with annual catches rising from 1 ton to 379 tonnes between the 1950s and 2010.
TFUI: And the Palau Shark Sanctuary?
MCF: Palau Shark Sanctuary - The Republic of Palau is a complex of approximately 300 islands, in the Western Pacific Ocean (7°N Lat and 134°E Long). Palau has relatively undisturbed marine habitats including atoll-fringing coral reefs located both within lagoons and exposed to the open ocean. Palau’s marine environment is characterized by a rich diversity of marine life with high abundances of large pelagic species and aggregation of sharks such as the grey reef and the whitetip reef.
In 2009, Palau announced the creation of the world's first shark sanctuary which prohibited all fishing for sharks within its waters. [TFUI note: HOORAY!]
In the past, pelagic fisheries catches dominate national landings, accounting for 95% of the catch, with skipjack tuna accounting for 20,000 tonnes per annum, or 96%. In 2014, the Government announced its intention to close Palau to all foreign fishing of pelagics, reserving 20% of its waters for a domestic pelagic fishery.
TFUI: For future projects, what is your dream research/conservation project?
MCF: That is an easy answer but not an easy accomplishment. My dream conservation project would be worldwide sustainable fisheries for healthy marine ecosystems. [TFUI: Something TFUI can totally get behind on!] My plan would be to implement no-take marine reserves worldwide in strategic hotspots and migratory paths, to protect not only resident fishes but also migratory species. For each reserve I would like to have an educational centre where everybody would have an underwater experience in order to understand the importance of marine conservation.
TFUI: That is a really cool idea. I really like how hands-on this is, especially in the education aspect of it all.
MCF: Also to have the experience of diving with sharks and other predators (diving with barracudas is exciting!) in a health and balanced ecosystem in order to start building respect and not fear with these amazing animals.
TFUI: What is the biggest "hurdle" of this project?
MCF: The highest achievement of this project would be getting the big fishery industries to invest in marine reserves in order to restore marine ecosystems which would, with time, increase the amount of available fish outside protected areas increasing their catch. It's a trade-off between industry and conservation that is a gain to everyone after all.
TFUI: I agree 100%! What do you think needs to be done for future shark conservation?
MCF: In my opinion, fear needs to be replaced for respect and admiration and it's only achievable with knowledge. Unfortunately, the movie Jaws still [has] a huge impact of how sharks are pictured. I grew up feeling very scared of sharks (mainly because of the movie) so during my teenage years I have got intrigued to understand why nobody liked sharks but feared them (because I use to feel misunderstood too).
TFUI: I think this will resonate with many people.
MCF: After reading about sharks I realized that they were pictured in a very scared way but are amazing and admirable animals that still are totally misunderstood. This is one of the reasons why I became a shark scientist, I want sharks to be known as fantastic animals not scary ones. I feel that sometimes is easier to watch a movie and judge reality instead of finding the real facts.
TFUI: What’s been your most exciting discovery/trip?
MCF: My most exciting trip was my first Expedition in Brazil during the shark attacks in Recife. It was my first time on a boat, a bit far from the coast and we were deploying longlines to catch sharks species responsible for people's attacks. However, we caught a pregnant-blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus), a non-aggressive shark species resident of Brazil's coast. She was dead when we retrieved the longline in the next morning. After that, I did the autopsy exam (I was studying shark reproductive biology at time) and I found four little sharks ready to be born. It was the first time that I held a shark in my arms and saw four baby sharks with the yolk-sacs still on.
TFUI: WOW! What an experience. So, if not marine biology, what other field interests you?
MCF: I like everything related to nature.
MCF: Every single detail is so well developed that it is hard to believe that is all Evolution. For instance, the hawkmoth caterpillar and its evolutionary traits to avoid predation. It has an incredible self-defense mimicry strategy pretending to be a snake when your predators are eaten by snakes. We have many other examples of evolutionary traits to avoid predation in butterflies, spiders etc. Moreover, don't you thing it's fantastic that killer whales (Orcinus orca) are non-human persons? They are intelligent, use language to communicate, and have a sense of emotional capability, similar to us.
TFUI: Each animal has its own degree of intelligence, that I can agree with. It's crazy how specialized each one is!
MCF: Humans keep trying to find intelligent life out there when we have it all here, we are just too egocentric to admit that.
TFUI: I have never thought of it like that. What a unique POV.
the fins united initiative would like to thank marjorie time
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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