As millions enjoy yet another "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is doing his part to ensure that the ocean's top predator is around for generations to come.
The 62-year-old philanthropist, who over the years has donated more than $2 billion in the areas of "science, technology, education, conservation, the arts and community improvement," is setting aside $4 million for the funding of the world's largest survey of sharks and rays. Called the Global FinPrint initiative, the project will span three years and involve surveys of sharks, rays and other marine life in coral reef ecosystems in more than 400 locations.
The idea behind the initiative is to gather essential data on shark and ray populations and their relationship to ocean ecosystems. An estimated 75-100 million sharks are killed each year by humans, many for their fins, so scientists are eager to understand this impact on underwater habitats.
“Global FinPrint will help us better understand one of the ocean’s great mysteries: What is happening with fragile marine ecosystems when sharks are removed?” survey leader Dr. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University said in a statement. “Are coral reefs healthier or faster to recover from disturbances like coral bleaching or hurricanes because they have sharks? These are hugely important questions. Many countries rely on healthy coral reefs for food security, tourism and coastal protection.”
To accurately gauge what's happening beneath the waves, Global FinPrint will utilize baited remote underwater video (BRUVs) stations. The teams of researchers will deploy these stations where the most glaring gaps in shark and ray populations data exist, such as the Indo-Pacific and the tropical western Atlantic.
Allen's focus on sharks and rays comes on the heels of success from another survey focused on elephant populations in Africa. Started in 2014, the Great Elephant Census has surveyed elephants and other large herbivores in 13 of 20 countries; accounting for nearly 90 percent of Africa's savanna elephants. With both initiatives, it's hoped that the data will help drive future conservation efforts.
Global FinPrint has already launched its international shark and ray survey, with plans to make the data available via an open-access platform in the summer of 2018.
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