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Environment

Grant will help New College of Florida in Sarasota study sharks in Tampa Bay

shark swimming underwater
There are about a dozen shark species that frequent Tampa Bay, including the blacktip.

Researchers hope to better understand Tampa Bay’s potential role as a nursery ground for young sharks and to identify potential threats to their habitat

Researchers at New College of Florida in Sarasota recently received a $165,111 grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America's Estuaries to expand the school's study of sharks.

The new project will assess population trends for Tampa Bay shark species including blacktip, blacknose, bull, and great hammerhead sharks.

Jayne Gardiner, the director of the Pritzker Marine Biology Researcher Center at New College of Florida, says the study will address data gaps that may impact conservation and management efforts.

"Sharks are a very important component of any healthy eco-system and they're very often overlooked in monitoring programs,” she said.

“How do you decide what habitat to conserve if you don't really know why they use a particular area and what features of that area are important to them? So that's part of what we're hoping to shed light on with this research."

Sharks inhabit the bay year-round, but between the spring and summer months, the bay becomes a feeding ground and nursery to keep the young away from bigger predators.

Gardiner says their findings could also help measure the impact of climate change and coastal development in areas where sharks live.

Habitat is impacted by the removal of mangroves, filling of wetlands, and other types of permanent physical alteration of nursery habitat have a detrimental effect on juvenile sharks, such as reduced growth rates and decreased survival.

Gardiner says shark migration patterns may also be changing due to warming ocean temperatures.

"How can we predict out from here, where these are animals are going to be and when they're going to be moving?” she said.

“And how do we need to adapt our management strategies for this species to make sure that we're continuing to manage them well in the face of a changing climate?"

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