(GERMANY OUT) Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Sphyrna lewini, Wolf Island, Galapagos, Ecuador (Photo … [+]
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At first glance, the hammerhead shark appears like an alien invader, but helping them survive is also good for fighting a real global crisis: climate change.
While most conservation efforts are focused on the ocean “highways and way-stations” of adult sharks, a group of Costa Rican scientists and conservationists have, for over a decade, focused on the bays and coastal waters where those sharks give birth.
Andres Lopez, 42, is a Costa Rican marine biologist and co-founder of conservation NGO Mision Tiburon, which focuses on research, education and advocacy.
“My passion for hammerhead sharks came from my passion for the ocean,” he said, “For me, the ocean is peace, and the blue gives me tranquility,”
“Oceans with sharks are healthy oceans, so only if we have sharks in the oceans, they are alive.”
The scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) is a cosmopolitan species that inhabits tropical and subtropical waters. In the Eastern Tropical Pacific, it is a common species in coastal and oceanic areas: offspring are born and inhabit the first years of their lives in bays and estuaries, while adult sharks make large migrations in oceanic waters.
For Lopez, the most important project of the organization is the strengthening of the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary, which was formally declared by the Costa Rican government in 2018, protecting 10,000 acres of critical nursery habitat for the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.
“For decades, the research and conservation efforts for hammerheads sharks were focused in the oceanic islands like Cocos Island, Galapagos and Malpelo, where adults congregate in the cleaning stations,” he said, “but the background concept is very easy: if we do not protect juveniles today, we won’t have adults in the future.”
He says now their biggest challenge is to involve the communities in the conservation strategy, so they see economic opportunity in the preservation of the sharks.
The scalloped hammerhead shark is affected by anthropogenic (human-caused) impacts and the sustainability of the species depends on the maintenance of health ecosystems such, as coastal mangroves, oceanic islands; and a blue economy that involves communities and a sustainable use of resources.
The sanctuary includes different wetlands, for example, mangrove ecosystems located at the mouth of the Coto River and Esquinas River, the main rivers of the Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica. Lopez says mangroves are powerful “blue carbon” reservoirs, capable of fixing up to 5 times more carbon per area than terrestrial forests, as well as maintaining a natural barrier against floods and hurricanes.
The hammerhead shark is an umbrella species that has a wide range of homes: by protecting an essential habitat for the hammerhead shark, a wide range of other species in the food web are also protected.
Aerial photo of Golfo Dulce and Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
There are benefits to humans too. Lopez says that conservation has had a positive in the region, producing sustainable jobs.
“The Sanctuary promoted not only the protection of the hammerhead shark, but also socio-economic activities that foster a blue economy, through the involvement of local communities, the tourism sector and the private sector,” Lopez said, “The dive tourism related to hammerhead sharks generates important economic resources based on a blue economy.”
“The hammerhead shark represents an emblem for Golfo Dulce and its communities; the Sanctuary is an opportunity to provide ecological and socio-economic benefits.”
There are groups across the global south committed to helping preserve marine eco-systems, especially sharks.
Anna Oposa, from the Philippines is co-founder of conservation NGO Save Philippines Seas, but she also has another title there: Chief Mermaid. And although the title might raise a smile, it has also helped to raise funds for serious marine conservation work.
“I moved to Malapascua, Cebu, where the pelagic thresher sharks are, with the ambitious goal to establish a shark sanctuary and build the capacity of various stakeholders towards that goal,” she said.