by Hannah Medd ’02, alumnas and founder of American Shark Conservancy
I was inspired to start ASC by the plight of sharks in many parts of the world, with some regional populations declining below 90%. Many shark species are biologically vulnerable to overfishing with late maturity and low fecundity and cannot withstand high levels of fishing pressure. Sharks are also threatened by negative public opinion as communities do not typically protect what they are afraid of and do not understand.
Fuelled by my natural curiosity, passion for the marine environment and fondness for the underdog, I decided early on that sharks would be my focus. Throughout my career as a biologist, I have been lucky enough to work with researchers, conservationists, policy-makers, commercial operators, academia and the public on the complex issue of shark conservation. This well-rounded experience plus my scientific background inspired me to form ASC with the philosophy that the sustainable management of sharks comes from a combination of strong science and effective outreach.
ASC currently has two programs: SharkStudies, which involves long-term monitoring of the zoogeography of sharks along the southeast coast of Florida and other areas. SharkSmarts is an outreach and education program that provides accurate information about sharks via multiple platforms to ensure the public stays informed about the threats facing sharks and engaged in actions to protect them.
Sharks face many threats, like habitat loss, pollution and over exploitation. The marine food web is incredibly complex, and each of the more than 400 species of sharks plays some role in keeping it in balance. Research has shown that sharks are important to the health of oceans, influencing reef health and productivity, as well as prey species population numbers and behaviors.
Media coverage of sharks can be harmful and frustrating at times. I have had to learn that much of the programming is under the entertainment category, which I accept, unless the programming attempts to blur the lines or focuses purely on the unlikely but sensational topics such as shark attacks. Many of us in the ‘shark community’ are frustrated by this simply because there are so many other great stories to tell, like cool shark adaptations (i.e., parthenogenesis, bioluminescence, endothermy, “walking”, etc.), how important sharks are to the ocean and coastal communities, or the different species that never seem to get air time like the Southern Sawtail Catshark or the Smalleye Lantern Shark. Despite later being blamed for the unfair and detrimental reputation for sharks, “Jaws” (the movie) actually inspired me and many people I know to work in shark research and conservation, so I believe even if the media coverage is inaccurate, it can lead to better understanding.
American Shark Conservancy
ASC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and sustainable management of sharks and rays through science and outreach.