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Global FinPrint is a Paul G. Allen initiative that brings together an international research team and collaborators around the world to fill a critical information gap about the diminishing number of sharks and rays (elasmobranchs). The project launched in summer 2015, with a multi-institutional team conducting surveys of sharks, rays, and other types of marine life on coral reefs using baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs). The research will improve our understanding of how elasmobranchs influence the coral reef ecosystem and how humans impact these species and their habitats. Ultimately, the consolidation of this collaborative global research into one single analysis will aid management and conservation efforts for life on the reef.

 

Why We Care

Despite the longstanding fascination with these predators, only recently have we started to realize just how important they are to keeping the oceans healthy and just how much trouble they face around the world. Conservation efforts on a global scale are needed now more than ever.

The survival of sharks and rays is important to the entire ecosystem, including us. The removal of predators like sharks and mesopredators likes rays can disrupt the balance of marine food webs and cause large scale habitat changes. Sharks and rays have substantial economic value by contributing to the global fishing and tourism industries. 

Recent estimates suggest that around 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and/or meat. For many species, catch rates have been so high that populations have declined severely. Habitat loss, particularly in continental and insular shelves of tropical and subtropical regions, has also impacted elasmobranch species the world over. Because of a lack of consistent surveys, it is difficult to determine what pre-exploitation densities and diversities “should” be to set restoration targets.

Fishing regulations, protected areas, and trade controls are all being employed to prevent the extinction of many sharks and rays around the world. Global FinPrint will help us assess how these strategies are working and identify where greater effort is needed by mapping shark and ray abundance across the world’s reefs.

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Baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) are a reliable, time and cost effective method for studying aquatic species. This project will allow the team to compare reefs with different characteristics to see what factors (such as coral cover, fish population density, fishing pressure, or water temperature) determine the number, types, and sizes of sharks seen on a reef. With this information, our team can determine the role of sharks and rays in various locations, highlighting research needs and prioritizing conservation actions to protect what is left or rebuild populations that are in trouble. The data – and the scientific adventure – will be made accessible to students, the general public, governments and other scientists through an open-access database to be created by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, maximizing Global FinPrint’s impact on marine education and conservation.

The Global FinPrint initiative is working to engage and educate audiences with footage of these amazing species and the places they call home. This will be achieved through the use of media, video-based K-12 lesson plans, and outreach to the community and policy leaders. 

Key Areas 

Global FinPrint scientists are dedicated to showing that it’s not all doom and gloom for our oceans and their inhabitants. We are working closely with over 50 collaborators and partners around the globe to ensure a future of ocean optimism, especially for sharks and rays. Results from this project will help us uncover three key areas.

Bright Spots

Early results show that some areas open to fishing have an unexpected abundance of sharks and/or rays. These “bright spots” can help us learn effective techniques and practices that could lead to sustainable fisheries, ensuring a future for both sharks and people’s livelihoods. These results will be communicated to other fishing nations and Global FinPrint data will be used to help secure protection measures for these bright spots.

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Refuges

FinPrint data are enabling us to discover areas where it is still possible to find some of the most threatened species of sharks and rays. Strongholds of endangered great hammerheads have been discovered in the Bahamas, the Northern Great Barrier Reef, Palau, and Tobago to name a few. Vulnerable wedgefishes have been seen regularly at Ashmore Reef in Northwest Australia, the Northern Great Barrier Reef, Mozambique, and others. The next step will be to work with local collaborators and partners to protect these areas from exploitation.

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Hotspots

Early analysis indicates that there are several areas that have an especially high number of sharks and/or rays. These “Hotspots” are often protected areas, or inaccessible locations where fishing pressure is extremely low, and may be the last reefs on the planet to still harbor pristine densities of sharks and rays. For this reason, we will work with local collaborators to share knowledge with the next generation of ocean optimists and those responsible for the protection of sharks and rays.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is GlobalFinPrint?
    • Global FinPrint is a Paul G. Allen initiative that brings together an international research team and collaborators around the world to fill a critical information gap about the diminishing number of sharks and rays.
    • Shark and ray abundance will be measured using baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys conducted in four key geographic regions: the western Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Coral Triangle, and the Pacific Ocean.
    • It is the largest survey of the world’s reef-associated sharks and rays that has ever been attempted. The analysis of these data will tell us what features of a reef influence the local abundance of sharks and rays and, in turn, how these animals affect the reef. This will help inform shark and ray conservation actions, such as the designation and monitoring of protected areas.
    • Survey data and analysis will be made available through an open-access database created by Vulcan, Inc., a Paul G. Allen company, and will include information on species, their population trends, and their habitats.
  • Why is Global FinPrint important?
    • Some sharks and rays may be keystone species that help maintain the balance of marine ecosystems.
    • According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, about one-quarter of the world’s sharks, rays, and skates are threatened with extinction, but the lack of comprehensive and accurate data is hindering conversation efforts to restore their populations.
    • Global FinPrint will help fill this critical information gap by providing data on global shark and ray populations and the factors impacting them. Information will also be gathered on their ecological role and behaviour.
    • Sharks and rays are important food and tourism resources for many coastal communities that rely on coral reefs.   
  • What are the major program milestones and timeline for Global FinPrint?
    • The three-year program kicked off in June 2015, with the first year focusing on existing data integration, site selection, open-access database development and initial new survey work.
    • The majority of the new surveys will occur in year two (2016). Data synthesis, analysis, and reporting will be done in year three (2017).
  • How will the data be collected?
    • BRUV surveys use baited video equipment to 1) capture the presence or absence of each species of shark or ray; and 2) estimate the sighting rate of individuals of each species.
    • The BRUV will be deployed from a boat using a rope and in-water personnel for proper down current orientation and will capture at least 60 minutes of footage after settling to the bottom.
    • Researchers will collect and analyze the BRUV data from each reef along with corresponding biological, environmental, and habitat data (e.g. bottom type, temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration, prey density).
    • The data from each reef will then be added into a central shared database for analysis.
    • The Global FinPrint initiative will analyze more than 42,000 BRUV records at 60-80 minutes each.
  • How will these data be used?
    • The data will be the foundation of a global, open-access shark and ray survey database that can be used to prioritize research needs and conservation actions.
    • Researchers, NGOs, and policy makers will be able to use these data to improve conservation plans and raise awareness of the ecological importance of sharks and rays.
    • Global FinPrint will assess the effectiveness of existing marine protected areas, identify new hotspots of shark and ray abundance that should be considered for protection, and establish the ecological role of sharks and rays in coral reef ecosystems in order to help justify conservation investments.
  • What was Paul Allen's motivation for this project?
    • Paul Allen recognized that the health of the ocean is critical to the health of the planet and believed that a data-first approach is imperative to protect our planet’s natural resources and secure a sustainable future for us all.
    • The Global FinPrint initiative, like many of the other ocean and wildlife conservation projects Mr. Allen supported, provides the data needed to improve understanding of the ocean ecosystem, drive better policies to help protect it, and encourage others to take action.
  • Was Global FinPrint Paul Allen's only project focused on ocean health?
    • No; Global FinPrint was one of several within Paul Allen’s portfolio of ocean health and conservation initiatives that leverages technology and data to gain new insights and create innovative ways to protect wildlife and ocean ecosystems.
    • He supported many other projects, programs and researchers who use scientific methods and technology to gather open-access data that can enhance research and conservation initiatives, such as the Great Elephant Census and Sea Around Us.
    • He has also supported multiple ocean acidification mitigation initiatives and public engagement projects, including the award-winning “Racing Extinction” documentary from Vulcan Productions.
  • Who else in involved with Global FinPrint?
    • The program includes a multi-institutional team of global leaders in shark research convened specifically for this project by Paul Allen.
    • The project lead, Dr. Demian Chapman, has more than ten years of leadership in shark conservation research with specific interests in genetic and survey work to inform conversation actions.
    • Six other leading shark conservation researchers form the coordinating team for the Global FinPrint initiative, including Dr. Mike Heithaus, Florida International University; Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University and IUCN Shark Specialist Group Co-Chair; Dr. Euan Harvey, Curtin University; Drs. Michelle Heupel and Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science; and Dr. Aaron MacNeil, Dalhousie University.
    • The team will also collaborate with local scientists, citizen scientists, and volunteers in specific regions to help gather data, making it a true globally coordinated effort.
  • How can I get involved with Global FinPrint?
    •  Give to the project to help survey new reefs.

Museum Exhibits

Our data are not only crucial for improving conservation measures for sharks and rays on coral reefs around the world, they are also visually engaging. This helps us communicate our science effectively to the communities in which we work. You can visit our interactive exhibits at three separate locations:

The Living Computers: Museum + Labs

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The Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle, Washington provides a one-of-a-kind, hands-on experience with computer technology from the 1960s to the present. Come in. Geek Out. Find us in the “Big Data” section, where you can dive into our work and discover what it’s like to analyze video data. See what a baited remote underwater video frame looks like and enjoy a life-size shark model constructed entirely of smaller 3D-printed sharks and rays.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

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The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is a leading science museum dedicated to sharing the power of science, sparking wonder and investigation, and fueling innovation for the future. Located in Downtown Miami’s waterfront Museum Park, Frost Science is divided into four buildings, the Frost Planetarium, Aquarium, and North and West Wings. You can find our exhibit across from the “Feathers to the Stars” gallery on the other side of the breezeway on the 3rd floor. Interact with our videos and learn how our scientists are working to save coral reef sharks and rays around the world.

Aquarium of the Pacific

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One of our BRUV watching hubs, the Aquarium of the Pacific now hosts an exhibit all about Global FinPrint. Visit the “Learning Lab” at Southern California’s largest aquarium. With a mission to instill a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants, and ecosystems, we can’t think of a better place to learn more about our partnership and how we’ve teamed up with citizen scientists to analyze one of the largest shark and ray datasets in the world!