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SOSF supports early career scientists |29 March 2022

SOSF supports early career scientists

Every manta ray has a unique spot pattern on its belly that researchers can use to identify individuals © Ryan Daly / Save Our Seas Foundation

The year 2022 marks a heartening return to the core of the Save Our Seas Foundation’s funding mission: to give young scientists a head start and support their ability to become the change-makers of our future. 

The Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) is delighted to announce an array of innovative projects as part of its 2022 funding cycle. Whether it’s a new scientific take on old questions about white shark populations, delving into the diversity of sharks or becoming immersed in the kelp forest that shot to fame thanks to the ‘My Octopus Teacher’ documentary, each project aims to ensure healthier oceans and a sustainable future. 

At the heart of the SOSF lies its Small Grants programme and with 25 new awards this year (to recipients whose average age is only 32 years), the next era of bright conservation minds is being ushered in for an innovative future.

Sustainability is central to Small Grant recipient Nazia Hossain’s research. Nazia is working in the Bay of Bengal to identify threats to hammerhead sharks from fishing and international trade and to evaluate the extinction risk of the species in the region. Using a sustainable fisheries approach, she will be investigating trade routes, fishing grounds and essential shark habitats, assessing fishers’ perceptions and gaining an understanding of fishing pressure in the Bay of Bengal.

Integrating local knowledge, improving the data collected by local fishers and including the community in environmental education – these are the hallmarks of Carolina de la Hoz’s project in Mauritania. As many as two-thirds of the sharks and rays in Banc d’Arguin, a shallow bay in Mauritania’s National Parc du Banc d’Arguin, are threatened with extinction. Carolina is assessing the diversity of the sharks and rays in the bay with a view to improving local understanding of their importance and their plight.

New knowledge is what Anna Simeon is aiming for as she collects genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this shark’s population size in South Africa. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can make use of genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by KwaZulu-Natal’s Sharks Board. This information is particularly pertinent in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species has to be balanced against concerns about bather safety. 

Bringing the public on board is where Segun Oladipo’s work stands out. Segun is gathering the first data for one of only two freshwater stingrays in Africa, the pincushion ray. By establishing and training the first Nigerian Stingray Conservation Team to collect citizen science fishery data, surveying the distribution of and threats to this stingray, and driving awareness campaigns with communities, Segun’s project will bring new understanding of a little-known species. 

It’s in this diversity – of species, countries and scientific innovation – that the SOSF is most invested. ‘From ghost sharks to great whites, Chile to Indonesia, genetics to fossils, we’re supporting our most exciting array of projects yet,’ says the SOSF’s chief executive, Dr James Lea. 

Five new projects have been funded as part of the Keystone Grants programme. Among these, Sandra Bessudo is characterising the shark communities in Colombia’s Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, while filmmaker Craig Foster and scientist Dr Jannes Landschoff are diving into the Great African Seaforest in South Africa to bring ashore 1001 stories of its species. These projects bring large-scale vision to local challenges, offering global solutions to conservation. 

Conservation relies on continuity, and sound scientific results are the product of many years of ongoing work. With this in mind, the SOSF has issued 25 continuation grants for existing keystone projects. It also continues to fund the SOSF D’Arros Research Centre in Seychelles, the SOSF Shark Education Centre in South Africa and the SOSF Shark Research Centre in the USA. The foundation has also renewed funding for its longstanding partners – the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, Manta Trust, North Coast Cetacean Society, Shark Spotters and the Acoustic Tracking Array Platform – in full recognition of the value that collaboration and partnership can bring to conservation solutions. 

The SOSF has funded 425 projects since its inception in 2003. This year alone, 60 projects across the world are receiving support. “It is our privilege to support so many inspiring individuals. Their passion and drive give me great hope for the future of sharks and rays,” says the organisation’s founder, His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh.


Press release from the SOSF

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