ASC’s Year in Review: 2020

2020 was one for the books. We got off to such a busy start, tagging sharks, giving in-person presentations, planning travel to attend conferences, and then boom! Like everyone else, we were blindsided by a global pandemic that interrupted our outreach and research efforts and all but halted our fundraising plans. We pivoted where we could, scrambled a little, but kept moving forward. After reviewing the whole year, we were surprised by how much we did accomplish. To all those who have helped in any way, and there have been so many, we thank you and our accomplishments are yours, too.

First and foremost being named the Blue Nonprofit of the Year by the esteemed judges of the Go Blue Awards hosted by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. We were in such great company in that category and are beyond thrilled to have been recognized for our continued work. Our incredible Board Member, Jill Brooks, was awarded the Eugenie Clark Award by the American Elasmobranch Society which “recognizes female early-career scientists who demonstrate uncommon perseverance, dedication, and innovation in biological research and public outreach on elasmobranch fishes.” Jill has accomplished a lot in her career before joining us but her work here at the American Shark Conservancy lends itself to supporting her perseverance and dedication!

A year of recognition! Jill Brooks, Board Member and PhD candidate at Carleton University won the prestigious Eugenie Clark award and ASC won the Nonprofit of the Year at the Go Blue Awards.

President, Hannah Medd, was selected for placement on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Advisory Panel (AP) for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) Pool for hammerhead shark stock assessment. Hannah is excited about contributing to the first stock assessment for these shark species and contributing directly to their management at a federal level.

One of our very first intern that turned into a valuable research assistant, Gretchen K., graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Sciences with a certificate in Environmental Science. Although she was unable to walk across the stage, we are really proud of all she has accomplished to earn that degree! Deborah A. completed our first official internship for credit also through Florida Atlantic University and is doing a stellar job managing our diver survey project.

We are thrilled to have Dr. Ornella Weideli join our board now in 2021and congratulate her on earning her Ph.D. in the spring of 2020, bravely defending her thesis over Zoom from her living room. We look forward to developing all our new projects together!

Dr. Weideli defending her thesis remotely from her home in Switzerland. Welcome Aboard!

We were grateful to receive continuation funding as a Keystone project from the Save Our Seas Foundation for our Survival from Shore project on great hammerhead survival in the shore-based shark fishery in the US.

In collaboration with Dr. Vivian Nguyen, Assistant Professor at the Environmental and Interdisciplinary Science Institute, Dr. Jacqueline Chapman a postdoc in the School of Public Policy and Administration, and their incredible student Jessika Guay at Carleton University, we completed a socioeconomic survey of the shore-based shark fishing community that resulted in more than 1,900 responses and we were thrilled when over 70% of our participants opted to be included on our mailing list for updates on our research and for opportunities to help with future research.

We tagged 8 more great hammerheads caught and released by recreational anglers for a total of 12 (8 more tags to go this field season!) over 20+ field nights, working directly with more than 50 anglers, and spending a lot of that time sharing information on fishing, shark biology, and conservation.

Volunteer anglers help tag and release a great hammerhead from the shores of Florida, contributing to a novel study of the species.

We expanded the number of dive operators that are involved in our Florida Shark Dive Survey and created a fantastic partnership with the amazing community organization, Fin Alliance, that will expand the reach of our work and the opportunities for all members of the public to learn directly from hands-on experiences with us. 

Our dive industry partners, Liz Murphy and Shark Addicts Diving, helped us collect data from more than 110 provisioning dives over 12 months, recording 8 different species of sharks, an average of 2.2 different species per dive with a maximum of 5 species on a single dive, an average of 7.2 individual sharks per dive with a maximum of 21 individual sharks on a dive. 

Getting a group of community scientists excited about using simple technology to study the diversity and abundance of sharks along the coast of Florida.

We also collected parasite samples from several silky sharks and are expanding our DNA collection for several different species and projects. 

We successfully satellite tagged a silky shark in collaboration with Cape Eleuthra Institute Research Associate and Florida State University Ph.D. student Brendan Talwar to further his study on the ecology of this species.

A silky shark swims off strong after being fitted with a satellite tag by the ASC crew off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida.

We are currently working with local collaborators to develop a study site to understand a novel, multispecies aggregation in unique environmental conditions. 

Many of our regular and long-standing outreach and education efforts were sorely missed this year but we pivoted quickly to produce several online “Virtual Classroom” opportunities for several age groups. Hannah was featured on the Save Our Seas Foundation’s educational series “The Wholetooth”, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy live Facebook event, Force E’s annual Shark Month presentation, the Unspooled Podcast with comedian Paul Scheer "Jaws" Episode, Palm Beach Rotary Club, Reef Institute and the South Florida Science Center’s Virtual Science Fair Series, Save Our Shark Org Instagram Live and several Skype-a-Scientist presentations. Jill presented our work at the annual American Elasmobranch Society conference and Hannah presented our education work at the Florida Marine Science Education Association (FMSEA) conference. We are thrilled to have worked with the PBS series, Changing Seas, and look forward to seeing our work in the upcoming episode. We had a blast filming a shark-centric episode with “How To Do Florida” with Chad Crawford. We continue our collaboration on sawfish outreach to divers and anglers supporting Havenworth Coastal Conservation. And attended several federal and state meetings, submitted policy comments on shark management measures including a group letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding international management of mako sharks

Angler Kaytlin R. being interviewed by the awesome crew of the Changing Seas program.
Collaboration is key! Any day on the boat with Cass and Shara is a good day!

We have four scientific manuscripts in preparation, with one being submitted soon!

Thank you SO much to our strategic collaborators, partners and supporters:

Carleton University, Fin Alliance, Shark Addicts Diving, Mares, Save Our Seas Foundation, Popsockets Poptivism, Sea the World, Co., Duck Diver Marketing, Force E, COVA Productions, Stoked on Salt, Tallymark Productions

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