|Town/Region||Praia do Tofo, Inhambane|
|Date||7 Jul 2009|
Tofo Beach in southern Mozambique is a critical habitat for whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). Over 300 of the approximately 1300 whale sharks identified globally have been sighted in Mozambique. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, and their iconic status and placid habits make the species a major drawcard for marine tourists.
Sustainable marine tourism has the potential to drive significant economic growth and social development in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world. My initial work in this region involved designing and implementing a basic population monitoring program for the sharks while creating a practical management strategy for the burgeoning tourism industry. The present project extends this monitoring work to obtain the data necessary for detailed population modelling, with particular regard to residency patterns.
There are two major scientific objectives for the project: (1) to produce an estimate of the total number of sharks using the area; and (2) to assess the residency patterns of individual whale sharks. Whale sharks can be individually identified through their distinctive white-spotted patterns. Modelling the number of re-sightings versus newly identified sharks using standard mark-recapture models allows the overall size of the population to be extrapolated.
This project has been designed in cooperation with government agencies to provide the data necessary for marine protected area design. Creating an effective marine protected area is the longer-term goal of this project. As whale sharks are an internationally-threatened species, successful protection and sustainable management of the Mozambican population will have global implications for the viability of the species.