05.09.2016 – New Providence, The Bahamas. Last week students in Nassau were surprised to learn that sharks in the Bahamas control the weather. Marine Biologist, Dr. Demian Chapman, from Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Global FinPrint, explained how during his school presentation. “They make it rain.”
The joke, played out during a presentation illustrated the undeniable connection between thriving shark populations in The Bahamas and its booming shark tourism industry, thanks in part to the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary established in 2011.
Marine biologist Dr. Chapman engages grade 5 students at St. Anne’s School in New Providence during a conversation about sharks.
The school visits, funded by The Moore Bahamas Foundation (MBF) and coordinated by the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (B.R.E.E.F.), formed the education and outreach portion of a larger shark expedition, now in its fourth year and also supported by MBF. During the expedition, scientists tag and track sharks throughout The Bahamas to better understand their behaviors and priority habitats. The findings of these expeditions are central in documenting and promoting healthy shark populations in The Bahamas.
“Dr. Chapman’s school presentations help to show students in The Bahamas that their country is a world leader in shark protection – and that conservation is financially prudent,” Louis Bacon, MBF Founder stated. “We hope this will inspire increased interest in and protection of the marine environment of the islands.”
Students learn about the threats to sharks and rays around the world during a presentation at their school in New Providence.
“You’ve seen those pink buses driving around?” asked Chapman to the classes, referring to successful dive outfit Stuart Cove’s transport fleet. “Those are all tourists, who do a lot more than dive. They stay in hotels, they eat in restaurants, they take taxis, buy clothes and go to festivals. And that’s money for many different businesses and people in the Bahamas – all thanks to your healthy sharks.”
Chapman, who swims with sharks “sometimes for research and sometimes for fun,” shared personal stories of the world’s largest fish with students in five schools across New Providence. He explained how the apex predators bring in tens of millions of dollars to the Bahamian economy. Another number that shocked the students from St. Anne’s, CH. Reeve’s Jr. High, T.G. Glover Primary, D.W. Davis Jr. High and Temple Christian High School was 100,000,000 – the number of sharks killed by humans globally each year, mostly for shark fin soup, considered a delicacy in Asia. As a result, shark populations around the world have been depleted by 90-99%, with some species facing imminent extinction.
By contrast, the population in The Bahamas, one of the world’s first shark sanctuaries where killing a shark is illegal, remains healthy, Chapman said. He highlighted the work of Global FinPrint, a not-for-profit research organization that he founded to map the populations of sharks globally and identify the areas most critical for conservation.
Using footage from Go-Pro cameras placed on the ocean floor with bait, Global FinPrint records the number and variety of creatures visiting to eat, ultimately assessing the presence of families and species of sharks in various regions.
“Here in The Bahamas, without fail, we see a shark – maybe five – every time. Hammerheads, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, many, many kinds,” Chapman confirmed.
Global FinPrint has recently broadened its focus to rays, a close cousin of sharks, by extending its team to include ray expert Katie Flowers, a graduate of SoMAS in Marine Conservation and Policy. “Rays are more critically endangered than sharks,” Flowers claimed, “and we know a lot less about them.” Global FinPrint hopes to change this by mapping their movement and creating important data sets useful for mounting a case for protection – even inclusion in the Shark Sanctuary legislation.
Dr. Chapman believes Bahamians should be proud of the work they have done to ensure the protection of their sharks – but must ensure these magnificent creatures remain protected in the future. “We all must work to keep the right protections in place to “make it rain” for future generations,” he stated to the students in closing.
About The Moore Bahamas Foundation
The Moore Bahamas Foundation, the Bahamas affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation founded by Louis Bacon in 1992, seeks to promote environmental education in the diverse ecosystems of The Bahamas. The Moore Bahamas Foundation (MBF) supports environmental education to encourage protection of the fragile marine environment that constitutes 90% of the island nation. MBF supports marine education programs that prove successful in building awareness, particularly among students, about the importance of preserving precious marine and land resources. MBF also supports health, conservation and marine research efforts.
About Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University is an interdisciplinary center for education, research, and public service. SoMAS’ mission is to increase fundamental understanding, through research and education, of the oceans and atmosphere, their interactions, and the life systems they support. SoMAS also develop and communicate innovative solutions to the environmental problems of society at local, regional, national, and global scales.