Spotted eagle ray, Crocus Bay, Anguilla. Peter Richardson

We’re working with communities and local partners in Anguilla to improve awareness and understanding of sharks, their role in local ecosystems and livelihoods, and how best to protect them.

By better understanding the threats faced by Anguilla’s sharks and rays, the project will develop a national Shark Species Action Plan that will seek to safeguard these apex predators and their habitats for future generations.

Anguilla Shark Conservation (ASC)

Reef Shark in TCI - David M. Stone

Reef sharks are often seen patrolling Anguilla’s reefs and wrecks

Credit: David M. Stone

The Anguilla Shark Conservation (ASC) project is a three-year, collaborative project funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Plus scheme. It focuses on understanding sharks better, and conserving sharks and their habitats. Working with local NGO the Anguilla National Trust (ANT), the Government of Anguilla, and the University of Exeter, it’s an exciting new partnership.

What do we want to find out?

We know very little about shark and ray populations in Anguilla’s waters. Using cutting-edge biological research methods, including the deployment of Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUVs) cameras across Anguilla’s marine environment, the project team seeks to learn more about local shark populations and record the species present, their demographics, population sizes and distribution in Anguilla’s waters.

We also know little about the nature and value of shark and ray fishing in Anguilla. This project will work with the local community to find out more about these fisheries and their sustainability.

Our Community Voice Method has involved extensive consultation with people around Anguilla so we can listen to, and take account of, views, values, perceptions and local knowledge about sharks and rays.

What's our main aim?

To develop a Shark Species Action Plan. Together with our local partners, we'll combine all of our evidence to create a conservation plan that safeguards shark and ray populations, as well as their key habitats. We'll make sure the plan has plenty of community input and considers local cultural values.

Community Voice Method (CVM)

Throughout the CVM process, the Trust and Fisheries Unit have been invaluable local partners, helping us connect with the community. We’ve interviewed a variety of stakeholders including fisherfolk, restaurant owners, dive operators, students, educators, and members of government to ensure our findings are representative.

Emily Bunce, an early-career social science researcher for Marine Conservation Society, said: "Everyone we’ve talked to has provided us with fascinating insights into life on this beautiful island, and how sharks and rays fit in."

It’s been a privilege to hear their stories, and it has been fascinating for me to learn about the diversity of opinions held about the species.

Emily Bunce - Social Science Researcher

"As this has been my first research trip, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from our interviews. Initially, I was nervous about interacting with people who fished for sharks and rays in case they were reluctant to engage with us, or felt we were taking away their resources. However, this trip has shown me first-hand the power of the Community Voice Method, and the appreciation participants demonstrated as we gave their voices a platform to be heard."

Now that all of the interviews have been conducted, Emily, with her Marine Conservation Society social science team colleagues, will analyse the data and create an engaging research documentary that reflects the community’s values and diverse opinions. This film will then be screened around the island at stakeholder workshops later in the year, where the team will facilitate debate and discussion to help inform our local partners’ approach to shark and ray management.

Sharks and rays in Anguilla

Eagle Ray in Anguilla

An Eagle Ray in Anguilla

Credit: Amdeep Sanghera

Anguilla’s stunning coasts and seas are home to majestic sharks and rays. However, little is known about which species are present, which marine areas they use or how well they’re doing.

Sharks are used locally for subsistence fishing, and are also caught as bycatch. Fear of sharks and rays also hampers their public acceptance and conservation. With their ecological value as apex predators, more research is needed to better understand local shark and ray populations. It’s also important that the wider Anguillan society have the opportunity to openly discuss their opinions towards these species and their management, with a view to building evidence-based conservation that also reflects community needs.

About Anguilla

Anguillian Beach

Captain’s Bay in Anguilla, a turtle nesting beach

Credit: Dr Peter Richardson

Situated in the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla consists of one main, low-lying, inhabited island, and 21 uninhabited, rocky islands and cays. It’s separated from another Caribbean UK Overseas Territory, the British Virgin Islands, by the 166km wide Anegada Passage.

Anguillans have endured difficult times recently, experiencing two category five hurricanes that wrought catastrophic damage across the islands in 2017. The Covid pandemic then caused further damage to local livelihoods and the national economy of this tourist destination. However, Anguillans are resilient and the 15,000 or so people that call Anguilla home are on the road to recovery.