One of the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation’s major priorities is to contribute to the conservation and management of marine ecosystems. Below we describe some of these key achievements.
BAHAMAS SHARK SANCTUARY | 2011
In 2011 the Bahamas Government declared well over 600,000 Km2 of their waters as a shark sanctuary, prohibiting any commercial fishing of the animals as well as banning the possession, sale and trade of shark products.
Data collected by BBFSF researchers was a key factor in determining the importance and value of sharks to the Bahamian economy, and our studies continue to advance our understanding of these apical predators now fully protected. This was an astounding turn of events and will assure the long-term survival of elasmobranch fishes in the wider Atlantic in perpetuity. We are truly gratified to be a part of this historic event.
FLORIDA STATE WATERS: LEMON SHARK PROTECTION | 2009
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a rule that prohibits both commercial and recreational harvesting of lemon sharks in Florida waters. In 2009, BBFSF along with concerned citizens and groups took a stand to protect the lemon sharks, which are known to be the most vulnerable large coastal shark species; and to aggregate in Florida waters. The groups approached the FWC to request a ban on the harvest of these sharks.
The general life history of this species for example low fecundity, high juvenile mortality, slow growth and age needed to reach sexual maturity, exacerbates its vulnerability to over harvesting. Any commercial or recreational harvesting of the aggregations could lead to a total depletion of the stocks in a short time.
For these reasons the FWC ruled in favour of protecting the lemon shark in Florida Waters, for which it has jurisdiction.
ORGANIZATIONS: IUCN SHARK SPECIALIST GROUP
The IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group (SSG) was founded by Dr. Samuel Gruber in 1991 in response to growing awareness and concern of the severe impact of fisheries on shark, ray, and chimaera populations around the world. The SSG is now recognized as the leading authority on the status of sharks, rays, and chimaeras and has recently finished assessing the status of all known species. Central to this process has been the knowledge and expertise shared by its members. The SSG is now moving forward to ensure that this knowledge converts into plans and interventions that lead into conservation action for priority species groups.
The IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group (SSG) is one of the largest specialist groups within the IUCN Species Survival Commission, with 237 members from 83 countries and territories. Many BBFSF alumni are active members including Matt Smukall (BBFSF President & CEO), Dr. Dean Grubbs, Dr. Demian Chapman, Dr. Nigel Hussey, Michael Scholl, and more.
ORGANIZATIONS: AMERICAN ELASMOBRANCH SOCIETY
The American Elasmobranch Society is a non-profit organization that seeks to advance the scientific study of living and fossil sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras, and the promotion of education, conservation, and wise utilization of natural resources. The society holds annual meetings and presents research reports of interest to professionals and students of elasmobranch biology. Those meetings are held in conjunction with annual meetings of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists each year at rotating North American venues.
Dr. Gruber founded the American Elasmobranch Society in 1983, was the president in 1985 and 1986 and a director on the board from 1984 to 1997. BBFSF past and present scientists have been attending AES showcasing our results since its inception.
THERE IS MORE CONSERVATION WORK TO BE DONE!
NORTH BIMINI MARINE RESERVE
The Bimini Biological Field Station team has been working tirelessly to insure the protection of Bimini’s North Sound since 1997. At that time, the Prime Minister visited the site and declared his intention to establish a No-Take Marine Protected Area (NBMR). In 2000 the Governor General announced from the Throne that the North Sound MPA would be legally established by the government. Again, on 16 January 2009, Mr. Phillip Weech, Director of the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission announced during a Bimini town meeting that the long anticipated North Bimini Marine Reserve would be officially put in place in 2009. Unfortunately, as of 2022, the NBMR has not been established and no longer appears on any proposed protected area legislation. An article in Bahamas Weekly in 2015 describes in further detail.
As one of our primary study sites for more than three decades, the North Bimini serves as critical nursery habitat for many of Bimini’s conch, lobster and fin-fish species as well as the lemon shark. Furthermore, BBFSF research identified over 370 different animal species within the boundaries of the proposed NBMR, including 13 that are listed by the IUCN as Threatened or Endangered. Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata), the Bimini Boa (Epicrates striatus fosteri), and three species of sea turtle (Loggerhead, Hawksbill, & Green) all face dire threats to their survival, yet they are not protected.
Data collected by BBFSF researchers serves as a key factor in determining the importance and value of protecting this area, and our studies continue to monitor the ecological health of this pristine marine environment. We are still trying to get this area declared in the face of mounting resistance to protect what is left of the site.
CONSERVATION OF THE GREAT HAMMERHEAD SHARK
Great hammerheads are a target or bycatch species in a wide variety of fisheries throughout their range and substantial population declines are suspected to have occurred in many areas as a result of fishing. They highly sought after because of their large fins which are prized in Hong Kong fish markets. Such declines and susceptibility have led to a global effort to enhance their management and conservation. In 2014 great hammerhead sharks were added to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II and in 2018 were categorized as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List. Great hammerheads are also listed on Annex I, Highly Migratory Species, of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which urges States to cooperate over their management. NOAA Fisheries Service HMS Division has also identified Florida’s coastal waters as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for many species of sharks. This includes S. mokarran, which was recently added by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to the list of shark species prohibited from harvest in Florida state waters.
Unfortunately, great hammerhead sharks are not protected in US federal waters (just 3 nautical miles off Florida's shore on the Atlantic, and 9 nautical miles from shore on the Gulf). A stock assessment is currently underway in the US, with data from many collaborators (including the BBFSF) being reviewed to determine the population status of these charismatic animals.