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  • Writer's pictureSharks4Kids

Turks and Caicos: Shark Research and Education Nov 2023

The team returned to Turks and Caicos in November to continue our work on Project Lemon Aid. We spent 2 days in the field as a full team, but the remaining days we split up, sending one team in the field and one team to the schools.

Sharks4Kids team members Michelle, Candace, Jillian & Arenthia. Big Blue Collective Staff member Kaylam Pratt Image Credit: Ele Love

The first day in the field we explored a new area and worked with a local captain in a smaller boat. This allowed us to access shallow mangrove creeks where we know juvenile lemon sharks spend time. We set BRUVS ( Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems) to learn a little more about what species are using these particular areas. With BRUVs, we attach a GoPro to a metal weight frame that can sit on the bottom. We have a small bait container on the front to attract animals. Once the frame is set we leave it for an hour. We then return and pull it up to reset it in a new location. We can then view the video when we are back at the end of the day. 

Duncan teaching Kaia from Big Blue Collective how to take measurements during a scientific workup. Credit Maria Mercedes Alfaro Gutierrez.

On our first day we caught 4 sharks, including 3 nurse sharks and a lemon shark. We were joined by DECR ( Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources) staff member Christopher May. He was able to see our research firsthand and even got to tag a shark. He also flew the drone to help us learn more about the habitat and spot for sharks. 

“I was able to partake in Project Lemon Aid again, and this time I got fully involved in their work. It was an exhilarating experience, traveling by boat into mangroves, sand bars, seagrass beds, and rocky shores. Using UAVs to survey the landscape and scout for, what S4K jocularly referred to as, “shark-shaped branches”; as Lemon Sharks and Nurse Sharks are notorious for lying still on the seafloor to conserve energy.  I was also able to participate in data collection, tagging, and release of the juveniles we captured. I was enthralled by the activities and feel more informed about sharks in general. I’ll cherish the experiences I had, thanks to Sharks4Kids, and look forward to working with them another time. “

Michelle teaching DECR staff member Chris how to scan for a PIT tag

Credit Jillian Morris

Big Blue Collective staff Kaylam Pratt and Ele Love joined us each day in the field and were a huge help. The team ventured further into the field with Philip Shearer ( Big Blue Collective) taking us to Little Ambergris Cay to sample other sites. Partnering with Big Blue Collective has been invaluable. Their local knowledge is crucial for finding sites to sample and their staff are experienced and extremely helpful. 

Tuesday through Friday, Jillian, Michelle, and Candace did shark presentations at schools. We visited 6 schools and spoke to over 800 students in grades pre-K-9. The students had lots of great questions! One of Michelle’s classes even jumped up for a standing ovation when they watched a white shark breaching video. We were also able to donate 125 laminated posters, including our new Sharks and Rays of Turks and Caicos poster. We also donated 250 3D shark models, 200 shark activity packets, and 4Ocean bracelets. It’s always fun teaching kids about sharks, but when we can share local research and encourage students and teachers to get involved, it’s really special. 

Jillian, Candace and Michelle during a shark lesson Credit: International School Turks and Caicos

To finish the week, the team headed out in the field to look for recaps from May. We were successful in capturing 3. This gives us great data on growth rates and habitat use. 

To wrap things up, our local team member Arenthia flew to Grand Turk to speak to students at Eliza Simons Primary. She did 3 presentations and spoke to 80 students in grades 4-6. 

“Exploring the outer island in the Turks and Caicos is an exhilarating journey filled with both adventure and educational discoveries. Teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th graders about sharks and their behavior became a highlight of my year. The students' countless intriguing questions not only enriched their knowledge but also deepened my understanding through the act of teaching. Witnessing their faces light up and the fear of sharks dissipate as I shared my experiences swimming with these magnificent creatures was truly indescribable. Being a brown woman who resembles and speaks like them, engaging with sharks in their native waters, serves as a powerful inspiration for the next generation of shark advocates.”

Arenthia visiting Eliza Simons Primary in Grand Turk

All in all, it was a very successful visit. The team was extremely busy but very productive. This project is complex because it is multifaceted with research, education, and outreach. We believe though, that this is all necessary for the long-term impact to be effective and sustainable. Community engagement and involvement make sure everyone has a seat at the table and stays informed. 

In total, we visited 7 schools and spoke to nearly 900 students. We also caught 27 sharks including 3 nurse sharks, 1 blacknose, 1 blacktip, and a beautiful tiger shark. Data from our nontarget species is shared with other scientists working in the region.

We look forward to returning in 2024. 

Specials thanks to:

Our funding partners Save Our Seas Foundation, Sandals Foundation, and Rock the Ocean. Without your support, this important work would not be possible. 

Our local partners Big Blue Collective, Edward C Gartland Youth Centre, Turks and Caicos Reef Fund, and Grace Bay Car Rentals.

Our team and local team members Jillian Morris, Duncan Brake, Candace Fields, Leann Winn, Michelle Jensen, Arenthia Bake, Philip Shearer,  Luis Serpas, Kaylam Pratt, Ele Love

Everyone who adopted a shark.

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