Our research projects are broad and diverse and have focused on fundamental questions about the natural world and the intricacies of how species interact with their environment. Our goal is conservation and we predominantly study sharks and their close relatives the skates and rays, many of which are endangered. We partner with universities and institutions to conduct field-based research and engage in conservation projects that focus on imperiled species and ecosystems. Our strategic partnerships have allowed us to promote local and regional conservation initiatives and to have meaningful and measurable impacts.
Assessing White Shark abundance in the North Atlantic using BRUVs
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (BRUVs) are a non-invasive technique that can confirm species presence, ID, sex and can be used to calculate relative abundance indices. Using BRUVs, surveys can be done at depths beyond recreational diving limits and hard to reach habitats with minimal disturbance to the animal. The objective of this project is to confirm the presence and ID of white shark species using a combination of pelagic and benthic BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video) with attached Vr2W and CTD. The camera and bait will be deployed at selected sites during day, twilight and low light conditions to evaluate species activity patterns and to validate several lighting regimes (white, red, and IR). Individual white sharks captured by the BRUV will be ID’d based on dorsal fin shape and body markings and entered into a Canadian white shark database along with a location tag. This database will also be updated with white shark photographs from previous and future expeditions. Over time, data of repeat sharks will be used to infer spatial location and abundance in Canadian waters. Environmental data collected using CTD will allow us to determine the environmental state/factors during white shark occurrence, while Vr2W data will serve as an estimate for BRUV detection bias. A tethered Trident OpenROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) will be deployed to observe and record the camera deployment when appropriate. Finally, we will investigate differences in detection rates between benthic and pelagic BRUV. This study will increase our knowledge of the activity patterns of white sharks in Nova Scotia during twilight, a time of heightened predation and also further our understanding of the white sharks inter and intra species interactions.
Northern Redbelly Dace Conservation Project
Ocean First Institute has partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Boulder County Parks and Open Space, The Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley School District, and Lyons High School to create a program to reintroduce a state threatened fish species, the northern redbelly dace (Phoxinus eos), to the St. Vrain River. This species is endangered in Colorado due to low population numbers and is listed as a Tier 1 Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Management recommendations for this species include the restoration of streams to natural function and to enhance connections for migration. Conservation priorities include identifying suitable habitat and restocking appropriate streams with redbelly dace. In recent years, due to the 2013 flood, the St. Vrain river and adjacent ponds have been restored to conditions favorable to the reintroduction of the northern redbelly dace. In particular, Webster pond within Pella Crossing has been restored as shallow, slow-moving vegetated habitat with minimal predatory fish and bullfrogs. With successful reintroduction into Webster pond, northern redbelly dace can be introduced into the St. Vrain river, thereby greatly expanding their Colorado range, which is now severely limited to the West Plum Creek Drainage, south of Chatfield Reservoir.
UPDATE***As of July, 2020 Ocean First Institute has successfully bred the northern redbelly dace and is working on the release.
See our LIVE northern redbelly dace cam here.
Marine Census in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica
The Las Catalinas project goal is to document and ultimately protect sensitive marine life in the Tropical East Pacific of Costa Rica. Through our local and international collaboration we are conducting a scientific census of fish, sharks and rays at two sites on the northwest coast of the Guanacaste region. Both sites host tremendous but undocumented biodiversity which is experiencing heavy fishing pressure. The area has multiple user groups including commercial, recreational fishers and divers competing for access to limited resources that garner direct and immediate economic benefits. Our long-term goal is to collect baseline ecological data and resource-user patterns and provide that information to local fishery managers and communities for determining the best way to manage the resource for all users.
Hammerhead Shark Conservation in Gulfo Dulce, Costa Rica
Our recent work involves a collaboration with our partners, Mision Tiburon in Costa Rica. Together, we are investigating the regional decline in scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks. Much of the decline has been attributed to the pressures of unsustainable and unregulated international shark fishing, predominantly for shark fins, within Costa Rican waters. In an effort to promote sustainability and protection of Costa Rican resources, the Institute has partnered with Mision Tiburon in an ongoing tagging project in Golfo Dulce. This is an area which has been protected from destructive fishing practices for nearly five years and is showing the resiliency of and a rebounding in populations of juvenile scalloped hammerheads. The goal is to tag and track hammerheads within the area to determine if this is a hammerhead shark nursery area. Ultimately, we hope to connect movements of juveniles and adults from critical nursery areas to critical oceanic island habitats in Coco's and the Galapagos Islands.
*UPDATE: In May, 2018 the President of Costa Rica declared Gulfo Dulce as the world's first hammerhead shark sanctuary!