When life gives you Lemons - Introducing Project Lemon Aid
Recently the team from Sharks4kids joined forces with the Big Blue Collective, TCIFF and the Edward Gartland Youth Center to head out on a mission to establish base line data on the populations of juvenile Lemon Sharks utilizing the productive ecosystems that surround Mangrove Cay and Providenciales.
Jillian Morris and Candace Fields measuring a juvenile lemon shark Credit: Nova West
Jillian Morris (Founder and President of Sharks4Kids) stated “it has been great to return to Turks and Caicos to expand our outreach. Getting the local community involved is critical for conservation to be successful.
Shark Crew: Sharks4Kids, Edward C Gartland Youth Centre and Big Blue Collective
The presence of sharks is a great indicator of a healthy ecosystem and mangroves are an essential part of the life cycle of these perfect little predators.
Around the highest of the full moon tides every year, many pregnant female Lemon sharks navigate the oceans into the shallows almost beaching themselves to give birth to their young in the protected and productive mangroves that they once grew up in. Once born these baby sharks measuring only half a meter in length have to rely on their brothers, sisters and other baby lemon shark friends to help them hunt, hide and explore their underwater world.
Project Lemon Aid aims to establish a base line population survey of juvenile lemon sharks at sites around the Turks and Caicos Island in order to investigate if the females return to the same mangroves they grew up in. The first stage of this research involves tagging the baby to sub-adult lemon sharks in the inshore waters with a focus on key mangrove habitats. The PIT tag similar to the one that you may tag your dog or cat with will stay with the animal the rest of its life and if sampled again will reveal growth and migration around the Islands of these sharks. Also genetics from a tiny fin clip on the dorsal fin of the shark will help us reveal family trees of the lemon sharks inhabiting the area and see how the Turks and Caicos populations are related to the Bahamas and Florida lemon shark stocks.
Sharks4kids team member Candace Fields (Shark Scientist from Nassau, Bahamas) said "It is truly a privilege to be able to be a part of this project here in Turks and Caicos. Not only are we able to gather crucial baseline data about the lemon shark population here but we also have the opportunity to involve students in the field work enabling them to get hands on and learn experientially right in their own Islands!”
Candace Fields and Duncan brag scanning a juvenile lemon shark before release
Credit: Nova West
The data collected from these research trips will also be used and made available to help establish projects that can be used by local students that have an interest in pursuing a career in Marine Biology, Conservation or Ocean Science.
Luis Adrian Serpas, a local student studying marine biology in Grand Turks who joined the team said “doing this in my backyard is pretty cool, not having to travel to another country in order to do research when these resources exist in the waters that surround our Islands”.
The first baby lemon shark caught for the project near Mangrove Cay was a male the team have named “Turks" coming in at around 65cm in length. The first female of the project “Caicos”, was almost 10 cm smaller and would have been born within the last couple of weeks. If you are interested in supporting the project; providing more opportunities for local students to get in the field you can “Adopt and Name A Shark” for a donation. Please reach out to email@example.com for more information. In return you will get a photograph of your very shark, information on its measurements, where it was caught etc and whenever the sharks tag is recorded again we will send you an update.
Luis Adrian Serpas also stated “It has been an eye opening experience. Project Lemon Aid has done a great job at including local students and community members to see the actual wildlife, understand the science and why we need to keep these areas protected”.
The Turks and Caicos International Film Festival, TCIFF was instrumental in helping establish this project and connecting the Sharks4kids with local collaborators and partners. The Project team would especially like to thank DECR, Fisheries, Rock the Ocean Foundation, Wildlife Society of Film Makers, Grace Bay Rentals, TCRF, South Bank Marina and everyone that has supported this project along the way.
Jillian Morris (Founder and President of Sharks4Kids) stated “The whole team has enjoyed teaching the students who have joined us and seeing their excitement. Creating these first hand experiences is amazing and we are excited to give even more local students the opportunity”.