Twenty eight individuals from a mix of dive masters, boat managers, law enforcers, and park staff were added to the pool of wildlife conservationists after completing the Elasmobranch Research and Conservation Training last February 24 and 25.
Lectures were given out by Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, Atty. Marissa Fox, and Mr. Ryan Murray on the first day of training. The three are part of LAMAVE which has key conservation projects in the Visayan seas. They introduced the LAMAVE Project to the audience as well as giving talks about the top predators of Tubbataha, shark biology and Identification, shark interaction best practices, and shark cataloguing through photo-identification.
The team conducted an in-water practical exercise on the second day. With the help of whale shark and manta ray dummies, they practiced the correct positioning, distance, and angle in taking photos of the said animals for identification purposes. LAMAVE also taught the participants the ways to upload their photos on the Wildbook for whale sharks (www.whaleshark.org). The website hosts an international database of individual whale sharks assigned with different names which give them a unique identity. These animals exhibit markings that serve as their ‘fingerprint’ between their 5th gill slit and the posterior attachment of their pectoral fin to the body. Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest extant species of fish.
Nineteen species of elasmobranchs – sharks and rays – have been observed in the waters of the Tubbataha Reefs. Thirteen of these are sharks. It is one of the sites with the highest biodiversity of elasmobranchs in the region.
Most elasmobranchs grow very slowly, mature late, produce very few young, have high natural survivorship, and a long life. These species are dependent on a stable environment.
‘Data show a consistent history of rapid stock collapses. The elasmobranchs, and particularly those sharks which are top marine predators feeding on weak and less fit individuals of other fish species, are considered to be a key factor in the health and maintenance of the marine food webs on which all fisheries ultimately depend. Permanently damaging shark and ray populations is likely to have serious and unexpected negative consequences for commercial and subsistence yields of other important fish stocks.’ IUCN Shark Specialist Group (2002).
To generate further understanding of elasmobranchs in Tubbataha, the Large Marine Vertebrates Project Philippines (LAMAVE) will conduct an assessment of its diversity, abundance and migration patterns. Results of the study will help articulate conservation strategies for elasmobranchs in Tubbataha.
LAMAVE, an NGO which aims to promote conservation through scientific research and education, will likewise conduct a shark identification and data collection training for diving professionals, park staff and partners on 24 – 25 February 2015. Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., will provide funding for the training.
The study will be done in collaboration with the Shark Foundation, The Marine Megafauna Foundation, the University of Victoria, Canada, and TMO.