Opportunities from citizen science for shark conservation, with a focus on the Mediterranean Sea

24 March 2020

The Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot for shark conservation. A decline in large pelagic shark populations has been observed in this vast region over the last 50 years and a lack of data on the local population status of various species has been pointed out. Throughout history, the relation between people and sharks has been revolving around a mixture of mystery, fear, and attraction. Recently, however, a remunerative ecotourism industry has been growing in areas of shark aggregation globally. This growth has been accompanied by the establishment of a citizen science (CS) movement aimed to engage and recruit ecotourists in data collection for shark research. Several CS projects have generated interesting results in terms of scientific findings and public engagement. In the Mediterranean Sea, shark aggregations are not as relevant to support locally-focused CS actions on shark diving sites as in other parts of the world. However, a series of other initiatives are taking place and CS could offer an excellent opportunity for shark conservation in the Mediterranean Sea. The dramatic decline of shark populations shown in the region calls for alternative ways to collect data on species distributions and abundance. Obtaining such data to set proper conservation and management plans for sharks in the Mediterranean Sea will be possible if existing CS initiatives collaborate and coordinate, and CS is widely acknowledged and deployed as a valuable tool for public education, engagement, and scientific discovery. After providing an overview of multiple facets of the relationship between humans and sharks, we focus on the possibility of exploiting new technologies and attitudes toward sharks among some groups of ocean users to boost participatory research. CS is a great opportunity for shark science, especially for areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and for large pelagic sharks whose populations are highly impacted