MARINE PARK CONSERVATION & RESEARCH
FOUNDER, FIN FOCUS RESEARCH
Meet Rebecca (or Re for short). Re was born in Queensland but these days spends her time between Exmouth, Western Australia and Mexico. She has a Science and Education background, however in the last seven years she has worked purely in the marine ecotourism sector as a Divemaster, Guide, Naturalist, Coxswain, Underwater Photographer and Field Researcher/Assistant.
Her travels have taken her to the USA, Mexico, Fiji, South Africa and South Australia to work with various species of sharks and rays. Her favourite project was working with artisanal shark fisherman in Mexico tagging and releasing sharks, and helping prepare them for alternative employment in the future. She is currently working on another Mexican based project, where she spends the Caribbean winter recording the residency of individual bull sharks at a feeding site.
In 2016 Re created Fin Focus Research, developing a citizen science project that uses the whale shark industry as a platform to collect data on elasmobranch biodiversity and distribution. She is extremely passionate about sharks and rays and hopes that her work can not only contribute to our knowledge of them, but also be used in their conservation and management where necessary.
In her spare time, she loves to be out exploring the Ningaloo reef and looking for sharks and rays to photograph.
FIN FOCUS CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECT
EXMOUTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
This project originated from the realisation that every day in Exmouth from March to August there are up to 12 (or more) whale shark tourism vessels operating on Ningaloo Reef with up to 20 guests and 5 crew. Although their main purpose is to provide guests with a once in a lifetime whale shark swim - they often encounter other species of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), and these were not previously recorded anywhere. This appeared to be a great opportunity, as although Exmouth hosts various researchers throughout the year, this industry provides a platform for long-term studies and monitoring. Hence, in 2016 Fin Focus Research was created and continues to run, thanks to a number of cooperating whale shark operators.
The Ningaloo Marine Park is considered a hotspot for many marine species and is a tourism drawcard of Western Australia. With large scale environmental changes occurring that may affect marine species it is becoming especially important to establish quantitative baselines. While some of these changes are natural, some are human influenced and without a statistical baseline it is even more difficult to assess how they may be affecting populations, and therefore difficult to make sound decisions regarding conservation and management. Using citizen science, this ongoing project records sightings across multiple whale shark seasons in order to establish baselines, and eventually, possibly identify any trends that may be occurring. The primary aim is to determine a baseline of shark/ray biodiversity and distribution in the region, although there are now a number of evolving “species-specific” research questions that may be addressed. The project also focuses on documenting the presence of rare and vulnerable species, and interesting interactions/events.
Apart from the whale shark industry sightings, Fin Focus also collects shark/ray sightings from recreational ocean users. The recreational aspect of the project focuses more on rarer species or any interesting observations regarding behaviours, feeding/predation and reproduction/nurseries. To date, many sightings have been documented such as killer whale predations on tiger sharks and sightings of rare sawfish.
The project requires the assistance and cooperation of multiple whale shark crew members, who record details of their shark and ray sightings daily and submit their forms on a weekly basis (with photos when possible). This project would not be possible without the efforts and dedication of these amazing crew. Their observations are extremely valuable and will contribute to our knowledge of sharks and rays in the Ningaloo region, and perhaps even further afield. Of course, none of this is possible without the influx of tourists that the region receives every year, so each guest that comes on tour is making their own contribution to this exciting research just by showing up.
Thank you for your interest!
To learn more, follow Fin Focus Research on social media