Sharking in the Seychelles
I have been involved in some very interesting projects in my month on the Island Conservation Expedition at GVI’s Curieuse Island base in the Seychelles. The volunteer team has been involved in surveying the population of the island’s endangered Hawksbill and Green turtles, the Coco de Mer tree endemic to the Seychelles, and collecting data on the island’s bird populations.
However, my favorite project so far has been the Sicklefin Lemon shark monitoring that GVI began last September. The staff here on base gave us an interesting presentation on Sicklefin lemon sharks – and sharks in general – including habitats, behavior, and also a background on the survey techniques used in the project. This gave us a good idea of what to expect before we headed out into the field.
The monitoring that we carry out is focused on the juvenile Lemon sharks, which are found in the shallow waters of the Curieuse Island mangroves. Our surveys take place either early in the morning at dawn, or in the evening at dusk. Whilst the 5am wake up for a morning survey seems a struggle at first, the excitement of how many new sharks we might catch soon has everybody motivated for the day!
Little is known about Sicklefin Lemon sharks in general, and prior to GVI’s surveys, there was no data on the population on Curieuse. The project is therefore focused on collecting baseline data on the sharks that use the mangroves as a nursery ground. This data includes the length and weight of the shark, the gender, age, capture location and the taking of a DNA sample. Each shark is tagged with a unique bar code so we can identify them if they are re-caught, and thus calculate their growth rates. We were taught how to safely capture and release the sharks, while causing minimal stress to the animals. Having caught and named some sharks (Doris, Boris and Delilah were some of our first catches!), one of the most exciting parts of the work is to release them back into the water. It is cool to get hands on with the animals – it is not every day that you can say you have held a shark!
Overall, the project is a rewarding one to be involved in, and it is interesting to record this new data, knowing that the information will be used to help protect them. The staff at GVI have told us of the future projects that can build on the data we are collecting, including tracking the juvenile sharks to determine at which point they leave the safety of the mangroves and head out to open water. I am hoping to encounter a fully grown lemon shark on one of our many snorkeling trips around Curieuse and the neighboring island of Praslin.
I’ve had a great month in the Seychelles, meeting some great people and living in an amazing environment. The things we learn on our surveys with the island’s wildlife have been very interesting. This is certainly an experience I will never forget.
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