Five Questions with Irene Kingma

I spent last week in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019.

Expedition leaders Irene Kingma (left) and Dr. Paddy Walker (right) decked out in the official Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 gear.

I previously wrote about some of the goals of the expedition, and our first day out on the water tagging small Caribbean reef and silky sharks.  I also interviewed several of the expedition participants on their views on sharks and shark conservation. Yesterday I posted my interview with Tadzio Bervoets. Today, I’m posting my interview with expedition lead Irene Kingma.

I first met Irene in 2014 when she invited me to give a keynote speech at the European Elasmobranch Association and have kept in touch with her through the years, mostly through Twitter.  Irene has been working in shark conservation for 15 years, both in Europe and the Caribbean.  She runs the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, which she founded together with Dr. Paddy Walker in 2010.

From 2015 to 2018 she worked as the Netherlands project lead in the Save our Sharks project of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance. This project aimed to improve all aspects of shark protection in the Dutch Caribbean through legislation, education, management, and science.  The project has ended but the Save our Sharks brand is still used for shark science and conservation work in the islands. 

Irene and Dr. James Thorburn prepare the European Space Agency tiger shark satellite tags for deployment.

I sat down with Irene and asked her five questions:

Bucky: What is your role on this expedition?

Irene: I am the expedition leader.  I’m in charge of making sure everyone knows where they have to be and what they need to do. I do this together with Dr. Walker, who took on the lead role after I left the expedition a few days before the official end. Paddy and I founded the Dutch Elasmobranch Society together in 2010, a science-based NGO dedicated to the management and protection of elasmobranchs in the Dutch Kingdom.

Bucky: How does the work you do contribute to global efforts to protect sharks?

Irene: My main job is helping policy makers to take the right decision on shark and fisheries management. For example, here in the Dutch Caribbean the Dutch Elasmobranch Society is the main adviser to the Dutch government on shark management and the measures needed to make the Yarari Shark Sanctuary a success.  Together with local partners we wrote the proposals to get several sharks and ray species listed on the SPAW protocol, the only cross border legal protection instrument for the Caribbean region.

The expedition crew works up and tags a tiger shark.

Bucky: Why are sharks important to you?

Irene: My background is in ecology, so when I think of heathy oceans that should include all parts of the ecosystem. Sharks are a really good indicator of ecosystem wellbeing; to be able to sustain healthy, diverse shark and ray populations all elements of the system need be to in good shape. We need to protect everything from the corals and to whale sharks.

Bucky: How are we going to save the world’s sharks?

Irene:   I am a firm believer in a holistic approach to management. Putting a species on a list like CITES, CMS, SPAW is an important first step. But you also need to have sensible implementation on the ground linked to effective control and enforcement. Plus, to ensure you get buy in by the people who are affected or have to carry out the protective work you need to communicate on what you want to achieve and why throughout the chain. And lastly all needs to be grounded in sound science to ensure what you do actually makes a difference in the water and for sharks. My mantra is we need to get the science we need to deliver the policy we want.  

Bucky: What advice would you give to young scientists interested in a conservation careers?

Irene: Dream big! Here I am, a girl from Amsterdam who started out as a malacologist (snail specialist) leading an expedition to one of the most interesting places in the world to start up research projects which will help us protect sharks.  Somebody pinch me! There’s no clear path that led me here, the only clear thread I see is that I tend not to take the safe option when it comes to career choices and I never gave up. 

The Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 runs from July 15-25. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Five Questions With Tadzio Bervoets

I spent last week in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019. I previously wrote about some of the goals of the expedition, and our first day out on the water tagging small Caribbean reef and silky sharks.

Tadzio giving us the morning briefing before Thursday’s tagging.

I was able to reconnect with my good friend, Tadzio Bervoets. Tadzio was born and raised on the island of Sint Maarten and has worked in conservation for ten years, first as the MPA manager for the island of St. Eustatius and and today as the director of the St. Maarten Nature Foundation. In his role as director he helped to establish the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area and was the lead for the Dutch Caribbean Save Our Shark Project .

He led the team at the Nature Foundation to push through conservation measures for all elasmobranchs, establishing a moratorium on shark fishing in 2011 and designating a shark sanctuary in 2016.

I sat down with Tadzio and asked him five questions.

Bucky: What is your role on this expedition?

Tadzio: I am the lead for the tagging exercise, focused on temporarily catching large tiger sharks so that the necessary science can be gathered from them, including the application of the new prototype European Space Agency tags.

Tadzio securing a tiger shark on our first day of tagging.

Bucky: How does the work you do contribute to global efforts to protect sharks?

Tadzio: This expedition is a direct spin-off of the DCNA Save our Shark Project which was a three-year, multi-island regional shark conservation project in which we supported shark conservation activities on all six islands of the Dutch Caribbean: Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba. The project was centered not only on scientific research and establishing monitoring programs for the species, but also focused on policy changes concerning shark conservation as well as educational and outreach components informing us islanders on the importance of sharks to our ocean ecosystem. Based on all of these components sharks have received local protection through the establishment of the Yarari Shark Sanctuary for Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius, as well as pushing through regional conservation measures using the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocols of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity in the Caribbean Sea.

Bucky: Why are sharks important to you?

Tadzio: I was one of those kids obsessed with sharks and dinosaurs growing up. I soon realized that dinosaurs were quite dead, but sharks are some of the most majestic yet misunderstood creatures on earth. My childhood obsession set me along the path of becoming a marine conservationist and helped me focuss on my work to establish MPAs on St. Maarten as well as the Yarari Sanctuary and shark sanctuaries in the Dutch Caribbean.

Bucky: How are we going to save the world’s sharks?

You: By continuing fighting the good fight! Although focusing on science and policy is critical and important, the most important aspect is changing people’s perception of sharks and how important they are to the Caribbean Sea and by extension to our way of life as Caribbean People.

Bucky: What advice would you give to young islanders interested in conservation careers?

Tadzio: There is a great need for the work to be done even though you may be told otherwise. It is also important that us Caribbean people are front and center in tackling the conservation issues that we face, instead of relying on foreign researchers who may not have the affinity and connection with our own natural areas. If you are interested keep and cultivate that interest, don’t get discouraged by the artificial appearance of a lack of work in the field as this is far from the truth. Don’t be afraid to travel and intern and get experience, but please come back to our beautiful Caribbean to make sure that it remains exactly that, beautiful.

The Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019 runs from July 15-25. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Small Shark Tagging Day

We’re all smiles 5 minutes into the first day on the water.

I am in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019.  Today was our first day out on the water and our objective was to catch, measure, and tag small sharks on the Saba Bank.

It’s a girl.

We caught three Caribbean reef sharks and a silky shark – the first time I’ve ever seen a silky shark (check that one off the list).  Each shark was worked up by the scientists, with data collected to serve their respective research areas.  When each shark was brought to the boat, the first observation was for sex, which we determined from the presence or absence of claspers.  And then measurements were taken for total length, fork length, caudal length, and girth.  We also took a fin clip, a muscle sample, and a blood sample.  Each shark was handled for only a few minutes, and then released back into the water.  Every shark today quickly swam away.

Guido, Jergen, Ayumi, and Walter work up a small Caribbean reef shark on the deck of the boat, with the island of Saba looming in the background.

Our island hosts Ayumi and Walter from the Saba Conservation Foundation were eseential in making today a success.  Walter drove the boat all day and Ayumi served as our expert fisher, helping us with the gear to target the species we were after.

You came for the science, but I’m showing you my fishing pictures.

We also trolled for bonito to and from the Saba Bank.  We didn’t catch any, but I handlined this barracuda, and we also caught a beautiful green mahi mahi.

Stay tuned for a few more blogs where I introduce some of the researchers and conservation practitioners participating in the expedition. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Studying Sharks in the Dutch Caribbean

On the ferry from St. Maarten to Saba with Dr. Paddy Walker of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society and Dr. James Thorburn, a shark researcher from St. Andrews University.

I’m in the Dutch Caribbean this week with a team of international researchers for an expedition to the Saba Bank to study sharks.  This endeavor has been pulled together under the leadership of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, the Saba Conservation Foundation, and the Nature Foundation Sint Maarten.  I’m only here for five days, but the entire research trip will span from July 15 to 25.

Those of you who know me, are probably thinking, “but wait, you’re not a shark scientist!”  That is correct.  I’ve joined this expedition as a research assistant, which means I’ve signed up to carry a lot of heavy things and sing Jimmy Buffet songs with my ukulele.  My main role will be helping with communications.  I hope to share with you what we’re doing this week on this blog, and you can also follow along on social media with the hashtag #SabaShark2019.

Our expedition is based on Saba, and we’ll travel to the Saba Bank each morning to conduct shark research.

We are going to be spending most of our time out on the Saba Bank, a large submerged atoll just off the coast of the beautiful island of Saba.  We’ll be within the borders of the Saba Bank National Park, which extends across 2,680 square kilometers of ocean, an area about the size of Rhode Island.  The region is high in biodiversity, and home to sea turtles, migrating whales, and over 200 species of fish.  Researchers also think it is incredibly important for Caribbean shark species.

The scientific projects carried out during this ten-day expedition will focus on a couple of different species, including tiger sharks (YES PLEASE!!), silky sharks (there are a lot of juveniles in this part of the Caribbean, a nursery perhaps???), nurse sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks. The overall goal of the research is to gain insight into the role that Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of the species that live here, knowledge that is essential to adequately protect sharks. Four projects that will be carried this week are:

This tiger shark was tagged on a previous research expedition. Photo Credit: Duncan Brake.

Tracking tiger sharks from space. During the expedition, tiger sharks will be provided with tags equipped with a completely new satellite technology developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The space organization has developed an advanced technology that allows the tags to communicate with satellites in space in an innovative way allowing the tags to last much longer and collect much more data than tags currently used.  Stay tuned for a blog on these tags.

Preventing bycatch of nurse sharks. The Dutch Elasmobranch Society and the Saba Conservation Foundation have been working together with local fishermen to reduce the by-catch of nurse sharks in lobster traps. One essential element to achieve this is insight into the behaviour of sharks in and around the traps. Fishermen report that juvenile nurse sharks break into lobster traps to eat the trapped lobsters, but this is only anecdotal. Dr. Robert Nowicki of Mote Marine Lab has developed a camera system that can record the behavior of sharks in and near the traps, and this will be deployed this week.

Connectivity between habitats of Caribbean sharks. Between 2015 and 2018, a number of silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and nurse sharks were equipped with acoustic tags to find out more about how these species utilize the area and the connectivity between different Caribbean habitats. Guido Leurs from the University of Groningen is building upon this research by collecting samples from Caribbean reef and nurse sharks to analyse diet and age of the sharks. Combined with the knowledge from the tagging program, this will offer government managers more insight into the role the Saba Bank plays in the life cycle of these sharks.

Stress levels of sharks in captivity. Blood samples will be taken from all sharks caught to determine the level of stress hormones in their systems. Based on this, researchers, can gain insight into how much stress the animals experience when they are examined for the different experiments. This information can be used to make the catch and research process as efficient as possible so that the animals are not adversely affected by the procedures.

There are also a couple of smaller projects the organizers aren’t promoting — but I’ll see if I can share an update or two about them. We’ll be out on the boat all day, and then back on land at night and I’m going to try to post an update each night. If you just can’t wait for the daily update, follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

30 Earth Month Heroes

Earth Month Heroes Narrissa Spies, Edz Villagomez, Sylvia Earle, and Charlotte Vick.

Earth Day is April 22, which makes next month Earth Month.

I’d like to invite you to participate in a Twitter hashtag campaign for the entire month.  The purpose of this campaign is to bring some attention and praise to the people who are doing great conservation work.  I’m calling the campaign #30EarthMonthHeroes.

Participation is easy.  Starting on April 1, post a tweet about someone who you think is doing great work to protect the Earth or the Ocean, either someone you know or someone you would like to know. Say something nice, upload a photo, link to a story or a video, tag them, and use the hashtag #30EarthMonthHeroes. 

Each subsequent day, thread one additional tweet about someone you admire.  It’s important to thread your tweets, so that by the time you get to April 30, you will have one single long thread.  If you thread them properly, throughout the month, as readers find your tweets they will be able to easily scroll up and down to find the people that you’ve been tweeting about.  If this works the way I hope it will, even the people who find your tweets as late as April 30, will still be scrolling back to your tweets from April 1. 

If all goes according to plan, we reach new audiences on a large scale and greatly impact the conversation about conservation, while building a twitter following for ourselves, as well as the people who we call out as Earth Month Heroes. Plus it’s nice to hear from your colleagues when you are doing a good job.

It’s really that simple. 

This is meant to be voluntary and fun, and it’s a chance to say thanks to the people in our line of work who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place – so no pressure!

If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments section and I will try to answer them.

How do I thread my tweets?

Ask Twitter.

Does my Ocean Month Hero need to be on Twitter?

If you are picking 30 people that inspire you, chances are one or more are not going to be on Twitter.  Don’t let that stop you from recognizing them!  If you can’t tag them, you could try adding a link to their website or to something they wrote.

Does my Ocean Month Hero need to be alive today?

Again, you should recognize whoever you want.  I’ll be shocked if Rob Stewart and Ruth Gates don’t get a few mentions (I’m going to mention Rob, whose final film Sharkwater: Extinction comes out on Amazon Prime on April 22), and won’t be surprised if the likes of Henry David Thoreau or Rachel Carson pop up.

What if I need to miss a day?  Or a week?

That’s fine.  The idea is to post one Ocean Month Hero per day, but if you can’t post over the weekend, post three on Monday.  And if you only get to 14 over the course of the month, those 14 people will still be happy to be recognized by you.

Help the Victims of Typhoon Yutu

Photo credit: Nicole Cabrera

On Thursday, October 25, Super Typhoon Yutu slammed into my home islands of Saipan and Tinian packing sustained winds of 178 miles per hour.  The storm resulted in one fatality and widespread destruction.  Friends and family have lost everything.

Andrew Thaler and I would like to reach out to the Southern Fried Science community of readers to ask your support in helping our friends and family in the the islands with relief efforts (Andrew has conducted OpenROV workshops in the region and has helped with efforts to confer UNESCO World Heritage and National Marine Sanctuary status on the Mariana Trench).

You can help by:

SPREADING THE WORD

The easiest way for you to help, and it doesn’t cost anything, is to share this blog on social media so that more eyes are reading this call for help.  Please use the hashtags #SuperTyphoonYutu and #YutuRelief.  Also, please share other people’s photos and stories on social media (you can find them using the hashtags).  Finally, you can help spread the word by sharing news stories. Here are some from CNN, NPR, USA Today, Washington Post.  Civil Beat also has a post with lots of photos of the destruction.  Again, please use the hashtags.

DONATING

The Pacific Daily News, the newspaper of record on Guam, has a list of ways readers can help the victims.  There is also a website yuturelief.com, that looks like it is run by various members of our diaspora.  I encourage you to read both websites and see what method of donating works best for you.  Here are a few others:

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Writing an Effective Ocean Advocacy Letter

Earlier this year, Andrew issued his Summer Science Outreach Challenge: Write an Op-Ed.  Inspired, I thought I would straight up steal Andrew’s idea and give a few tips on writing an effective advocacy letter, the type of letter you’d send to a government official to ask them to help protect the ocean.

In my conservation career I’ve written hundreds of letters to all levels of government, from agency staff to presidents.  Advocacy letters are one of the more effective tools in the arsenal of conservation tactics.  They are a great way of communicating a message directly to a targeted person (assuming the letter gets read, of course!) and are a great way to kick off a discussion on protecting the ocean between concerned citizens and government officials.  Here are a few tips: Read More

The ‘Pluto Moment’ for Marine Protected Areas

How much of the ocean is really protected?

When the International Astronomical Union changed its definition of what constitutes a planet in our solar system in 2006, demoting hapless Pluto to a dwarf planet, the decision sparked fierce scientific debate and an outcry from the public. But after all was said and done, we earthlings now have a better understanding of our celestial neighborhood, with eight perfectly nice authentic planets, and a greater appreciation of what it takes to be in that exclusive club.

Now, the ocean science community may be facing its own “Pluto Moment.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—keeper of the Red List, the most comprehensive source on the conservation status of life on Earth—also sets the global standard for marine protected areas (MPAs). The IUCN has numerous subcategories of MPAs, from fully protected areas to those that allow some fishing or other activity, but in the group’s eyes all MPAs must be created with the primary goal of conserving biodiversity.

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