Project Title: Evaluating the efficacy of a marine reserve for endemic and threatened sharks off South Africa

Overview

The waters of South Africa are home to a diverse array of sharks, many of which are data-deficient, endemic and/or threatened – and its southern cape harbors one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the De Hoop Nature Reserve (DHNR). As fishing pressure in the area increases, this region has become a research and conservation priority. Though bony fish and whales in De Hoop have been the focus of significant research effort, there is a knowledge gap in the biology and ecology of the region’s sharks, many of which are endemic to the country or severely threatened.  These endemic species include the puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii), dark shyshark (Haploblepharus pictus), leopard catshark (Poroderma pantherinum), and pyjama catshark (Poroderma africanum).  Though not an endemic species, the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena) has also been identified as threatened in this area.  While sharks are protected within the reserve, the reef habitat they occupy extends outside its boundary, eastward for approximately five km; in this unregulated area, sharks are vulnerable to shark longline fishing occurring there. This project is using a combination of passive acoustic telemetry and baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVS) to investigate to study the habitat use of endemic and threatened sharks in the reserve and to determine if extending the DHNR boundary to include the entire reef will provide direct protections for these endemic and/or threatened species. SRC research and collaborators are currently providing these data to Cape Nature, the organization that manages the DHNR, to assess the effectiveness of the MPA’s design. This project is supported through grants from the Shark Conservation Fund, the Ocean Tracking Network and the Rock the Ocean Foundation. SRC research collaborators include Chris and Monique Fallows, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and South Africa’s Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP).

Major Objectives

1. Determine distribution, residency patterns, and habitat use of study species within the De Hoop MPA

2. Examine spatiotemporal movements of sharks within and adjacent to De Hoop MPA boundary lines through passive acoustic telemetry

3. Assess whether current boundaries are effective and adequate for the protection of these threatened and endemic shark species

4. Compare density and abundance of sharks within MPA waters to neighboring vulnerable habitat through baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs)

5. Present findings to Cape Nature in order to evaluate if extending the boundaries of the DHNR to encompass exposed reef tract would provide effective protection for these sharks

Study Location

Nestled along the southern tip of Africa, the De Hoop Nature Reserve encompasses a spectacular stretch of coastline in South Africa.  Initially established as a terrestrial nature reserve in 1976, De Hoop was then expanded in 2000 to include three nautical miles of the West Indian Ocean.  In 2004, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a part of the Cape Floral Region Protected Area: one of the most unique terrestrial biomes on the planet.  The creation of the De Hoop Marine Protected Area provided a 253 km2 area of protection from human interaction for marine flora and fauna.  Located adjacent to the Agulhas Bank, the MPA is home to both warm-water east coast species and cold-water west coast species.  The intertidal zone, kelp beds, and low profile rocky-reef provide habitat for the study species of this project.  Using the small town of Infanta as a research base, SRC can access the De Hoop MPA by sea and by land for data collection. (Source: CapeNature, Atlas of Marine Protection)

Check out these BRUV images below – can you guess the species of shark?

Top: A smooth hammerhead

Middle: A ragged tooth shark

Bottom: Several smooth hound sharks and bull rays