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Shark Week: Meet Domino Albert from Project AWARE®

Our Shark Week adventure continues as we meet Domino Albert. She is Project AWARE's Associate Director of Global Communications and is actively involved in their ocean and shark conservation initiatives. Thanks Domino for sharing your shark story with us!

I blew my first underwater bubbles in the mid-90s and completely fell in love with scuba diving, the underwater world and ocean conservation. Driven by this new passion, I climbed the PADI® continuing education chart and worked as a PADI® IDC Staff Instructor for a couple of years. Pursuing my dream of making my dives count for ocean protection, I traveled and dived extensively in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, before joining the Project AWARE® Team in 2000. As Project AWARE Associate Director, Global Communications, my focus is on inspiring action for science-based ocean conservation measures and developing new and innovative ways to get complex marine conservation issues across to a wide and new audience.

Domino during a Dive Against Debris dive

1. What is your favorite shark and why?

With more than 1,000 known species of sharks and rays, it’s hard to pick just one. I love the cheeky smile of the lemon sharks, the force of the thresher sharks’ long tail and how they use is to stun and catch their prey. I could watch the spotted eagle rays unique patterns of spots on their wings for hours, but the shark species currently getting all my love and attention is the shortfin Mako shark. Sleek and athletic, it’s the world’s fastest shark. Sought for meat, fins, and sport, Mako sharks are either targeted commercially or captured accidentally in fisheries targeting other species. For far too long, the top Mako fishing nations have landed this vulnerable species without limit, and the result is a disaster. ICCAT scientists released a report in 2017 on the dire status of Atlantic Mako shark populations, revealing serious overfishing and depletion in the North Atlantic. The new analyses show that the North Atlantic Mako population has a 54% chance of recovering from years of overfishing by 2040 if catches are cut to zero, leaving scientists and conservationists to recommend a complete and immediate ban on retaining shortfin Makos from the region, as well as measures to reduce the Mako mortality associated with accidental catches.

2. If you could see/swim/study one species of shark, what would it be? One of my bucket list shark species to see and dive with is the majestic Whale Shark. I’d love to join one of Dr Simon J. Pierce’s specialist research expeditions. What’s not to like about diving with Whale Shark experts to learn about shark science and marine biology, whilst diving with sharks in the world's best dive destinations? A new study published in the journal Endangered Species Research has revealed that juvenile whale sharks swim to Madagascar, a newly-identified hotspot for these huge fish, to feed. Eighty-five individual sharks were identified in a single season using photographs of their distinctive spot patterns. So I’m definitely adding Madagascar or Mozambique to the top of my “Must Visit Places” list. For now, I just keep reading Simon’s blog to keep my dreams of conservation adventures with whale sharks alive. Seeing and learning more about lemon sharks is also on my bucket list.

3. Can you tell us a little about your current work at Project AWARE®? From volunteer Beach and Underwater Cleanup Coordinator in the late 90’s to Associate Director, Global Communications, my role at Project AWARE has changed a lot over the years. Today, using storytelling and the power of social media, I help spread the word about the threats our ocean is facing and how adventurers can make lasting environmental changes by connecting their passion for adventure with the purpose of ocean conservation. I have more than 18 years of experience in the non-profit sector, fundraising, leading communications and engagement campaigns, and managing organizational strategy and operations, and I’m loving it. Working at Project AWARE allows me to meet and work with extraordinary people from scientists to shark advocates, dive leaders to adventurers, all committed to make our blue planet a better place for us today and future generations.

4. What is one of the most interesting things you've learned about sharks working in conservation?

I’ve learned that shark finning bans are not keeping sharks off the menu and banning all trade in shark fins could hinder successful conservation practices as well as damage sustainable shark fisheries. Let me explain! Shark meat markets have expanded considerably due to a combination of demand growth and finning bans intended to encourage the full utilization of carcasses. The global shark trade is extremely complex so solutions are bound to be complicated. Over-simplification can hinder effective shark fisheries management. With so many shark species and products in trade, it can be difficult to get your head around what is really happening. Understanding sources and trends is a critical step toward making sure the trade is sustainable and traceable, and the underlying fisheries are properly managed. Trade in shark and ray products must be controlled and monitored. The best way to ensure an end to finning is to require that sharks are landed with their fins still “naturally” attached. Project AWARE works with various shark conservation partners to use the power of international conservation agreements and management regulations for change and calls for national, regional and global science-based, species-specific conservation actions that heed all available scientific advice for limiting shark and ray catches, protect endangered species, and completely ban the removal of shark fins at sea.

5. What do you think is one of the greatest challenges in shark conservation?

Overexploitation, through targeted as well as incidental catch, is one of the main global threats facing shark survival. Overfishing is driving sharks to the brink of extinction - with many populations down by 80 percent. The future of sharks and rays hinges on holding fishing and trade to sustainable levels. Fishing limits must be put in place. These limits must be guided by science and they must reflect a precautionary approach. For some species, we’re running out of time! One quarter of all known species of sharks, skates and rays are considered Threatened with Extinction by the IUCN Red List. Overfishing, bycatch and finning are pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Love them or fear them, the reality is sharks play a crucial role in keeping our ocean ecosystems in balance, yet many species are being caught at an alarming and unsustainable rate. Public support for science-based shark conservation measures is much needed to influence the policy debate. Don’t let the way sharks are portrayed in mainstream media fuel an irrational fear for sharks. Learn more about their importance and support shark conservation. A healthy ocean planet depends on healthy shark populations.

Domino, Project Aware and other shark conservation organizations including Shark Advocates and The Shark Trust at CITES 2016.

6. How can divers save sharks? Why does diving play an important role in conservation?

Diving and snorkelling with sharks and rays is a growing market within wildlife tourism. Shark diving is very popular amongst divers as it offers a unique chance to get up close and personal with some of the world's most amazing ocean predators. The economic value of shark tourism has provided incentive to protect sharks and their habitats in several countries. For example, in 2011, an economic study estimated that shark divers contributed over US$42 million to Fiji’s economy. Similar studies indicate that reef sharks contribute more to Palau’s economy. But sustainable eco-tourism incorporates a lot more than the ability to generate income. Marine wildlife tourism has the potential to be a tool for conservation due to ability to raise awareness, educate tourists and enhance local economic benefits. With this in mind, Project AWARE has developed, in partnership with Manta Trust and WWF, the Sustainable Shark and Ray Tourism: A Guide to Best Practices. The growing shark tourism industry is of special interest to conservationists because sharks are facing high pressure from fisheries. Scuba divers provide an important and unique perspective and they’re making their voice heard by fishery managers. Over the years, Project AWARE has been very successful at mobilizing the global dive community to secure science-based shark conservation measures and influence the policy debate. Governments can rely on divers to provide vocal support and economic arguments for conserving sharks and rays. With our Shark League partners, Shark Advocates International, The Shark Trust, and Ecology Action Canada, we’re currently urging top fishing nations to prohibit retention of Atlantic Mako sharks immediately, as advised by ICCAT scientists, and push for an Atlantic-wide ban at the November 2018 ICCAT meeting. Want to help? Add your name to the #Divers4Makos petition: and follow @projectaware on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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