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Save the Sharks

Image Source: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Diego Cardeñosa’s passion for sharks began in childhood, fascinated by their graceful movement in the ocean rather than fearing them. This love led him to become a marine biologist, driven by a desire to protect these creatures facing a conservation crisis.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 35% of shark species are threatened with extinction, a number that has increased dramatically in the past decade due to overfishing. Sharks are targeted for their meat and fins, primarily driven by the demand for shark fin soup.

Cardeñosa emphasizes the unsustainable rate at which sharks are killed annually—about 100 million—often as bycatch in fishing methods like long lines and gill nets. The practice of shark finning, where sharks are finned alive and thrown back into the ocean to die, exacerbates this crisis.

Among the most critically endangered are hammerhead sharks, which have seen an 80% population decline in recent decades due to their valuable fins. Despite challenges, Cardeñosa is actively combating the illegal shark trade as a Distinguished Postdoctoral Scholar at Florida International University. His work involves developing portable DNA kits that help identify species and their origins in shark fins and meat shipments, aiding law enforcement in detecting illegal trade.

Cardeñosa’s efforts extend to educating fishermen on sustainable fishing practices and collaborating with local communities to protect endangered shark populations. His research has influenced the expansion of CITES regulations to cover over 150 shark species, ensuring that shark trade is legal, traceable, and sustainable globally.

Despite the daunting task of managing shark fisheries, Cardeñosa remains dedicated to his mission, advocating for greater international participation in shark conservation efforts. His work not only addresses immediate threats to sharks but also seeks long-term solutions to ensure their survival in oceans worldwide.

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