Paul Allen to support global shark data initiative at FIU July 22, 2015

Florida International University has announced that Microsoft founder Paul Allen is funding its new Global FinPrint initiative, the largest shark population survey ever.

This exciting news is affirmation of the great work being done at our state’s oceanographic research institutions and confirms that we are indeed the global marine hub to the world, on par with Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s research triangle. Our area attracts the best and brightest entrepreneurs, all year long in addition to at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and making them aware of the important work taking place at these institutions will help create jobs and help our state become known for more than just tourism and retirees.

Sharks are disappearing from our oceans in alarming numbers. About one quarter of the world’s sharks, rays and skates are threatened with extinction. The lack of comprehensive and up-to-date data on species abundance and distribution hinders efforts to protect and replenish these important and dynamic marine animals.

The Global FinPrint initiative is a three-year survey of sharks and rays in coral reef ecosystems is the largest of its kind and is designed to provide fundamental data essential to building effective conservation programs. Global FinPrint is one of several initiatives within Paul G. Allen’s portfolio of ocean health programs. It kicks off this month with three years of underwater surveys and data aggregation conducted by a multi-institutional team led by Dr. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University.

“Results from Global FinPrint will provide critical trend analyses and establish baselines in places that have never before been systematically assessed,” said Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropy at Vulcan Inc. “This information will help inform more effective conservation efforts.”

Five other leading shark conservation researchers will collaborate on the Global FinPrint initiative, including Dr. Mike Heithaus, Florida International University; Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University and IUCN Shark Specialist Group Co-Chair; and Drs. Michelle Heupel, Aaron MacNeil and Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The survey portion of the Global FinPrint initiative will use baited remote underwater video (BRUVs) to survey sharks, rays and other marine life in coral reef ecosystems in more than 400 locations across three key geographic regions where data gaps exist: Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands. The new data will be consolidated with thousands of hours of existing BRUV data to produce the first global standardized survey of shark, ray and skates in coral reef environments.

Survey data will be made available through an open-access database platform created by Vulcan’s technology development team and will include information on species density, habitats and diversity trends. Researchers, policy makers, governments and others will be able use this database to help inform conservation priorities, such as identifying and protecting areas with large or important shark populations, and to better understand the ecological importance of sharks as apex predators.

“Recent estimates suggest around 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and meat. This is resulting in severe population declines for some species, and many of the species that are in trouble live in coastal habitats like coral reefs,” Heithaus said. “This could be a big problem for these ecosystems because sharks and rays, which are also in trouble in many places, may be important for keeping the oceans healthy. This global survey will fill in data gaps that could help governments, fisheries and others better understand and conserve these important predators.”

For more information on the initiative, visit the Global FinPrint website at or follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Students go shark tagging

In other shark-related news, about 20 students from the South Broward High School’s Marine Magnet program who took part in Nova Southeastern University’s O-STEM (Oceanographic Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) summer camp went shark tagging recently.

The students had the unique experience of working side-by-side with researchers and scientists at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute, helping catch sharks, measuring, and tagging and returning them back to the ocean. The trip was funded by the MIASF education fund.

They also learned about what makes up the world’s oceans – from fish to coral reefs to ocean currents. Film crews from USA Today and the Guy Harvey Research Institute accompanied the students and will be airing reports about the trip.

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