Sunday, 23 October 2016

My love affair with sharks - by Kristin Treat

My obsession with marine life started as a child, a time when I was happiest doing any water-related activity.  My favorite memories are of countless hours spent on our dock catching creatures to examine in my net, snorkeling for hours while on vacation until my parents had to physically drag me out of the water, and spending nights and weekends with family on our boat, appreciating the beauty beneath and around me. As I grew older, my love and fascination for the ocean also grew and I began to realize that the essential roles, played by every organism in the marine ecosystem, were crucial in keeping the ocean’s system in balance. Some of the most important contributors to marine ecosystems are the apex predators, specifically sharks, which help to regulate and prevent the ocean from going into a trophic cascade and collapsing. Tragically, sharks are experiencing a severe decline, due primarily to shark finning and by-catch. I have always been drawn to sharks, and am devoted to learning as much as I can about them, including any methods to aid in their protection. The Bimini Shark Lab, through its hands-on and in depth research, is making numerous contributions in the discoveries about these misunderstood species and I am immensely grateful and excited to be a part of it.

Kristin (pictured right) collecting biological data from a juvenile lemon shark

I have been a volunteer at the shark lab for a little over a month now, and it has been an incredible experience. There is really not a “typical day” at the lab. We have participated in everything from actively tracking juvenile lemon sharks, to mending gillnets and shark pens, to preparing and evacuating for a hurricane. One of my favorite duties is setting our long-lines for various research projects. Incredibly, on my first longline experience here at the lab, I had the amazing experience of tagging a beautiful tiger shark. It was unbelievable to be so close to such a powerful fish, and it is an experience I will never forget! Long-lines are especially exciting during the nighttime hours. Being out on the water in complete darkness, with twinkling stars above and bioluminescence sparkling in the wake of the boat below, is breathtaking. It was such a surreal experience and one that will stay with me forever. Moments and experiences like these make me fall in love with this field over and over again, and make me more determined to become further involved in research and conservation in the future.

This field may be competitive and tough, but once you are committed you will never be able to turn back. Every aspect is extremely rewarding, with the knowledge of helping a species so close to your heart, while at the same time learning new methods and research. Day after day, I witness the love and passion coming from every single member of the shark lab team working tirelessly for the species, to learn all they can and to ensure their future survival. I feel extremely thankful to be a part of it, knowing that work in this field is something I will continue doing for the rest of my life, and I’m grateful this unforgettable experience at the Bimini Shark Lab has become another important chapter towards my goal.