Palmyra Atoll Reef Sharks

Vimeo Link:

YouTube Link:

Team Members:

Douglas McCauley, UC Santa Barbara - Marine Science Institute
Julie Cohen, UC Santa Barbara
Alex Parraga, UC Santa Barbara
Jessie Ward O'Sullivan, UC Santa Barbara


In this study, we set out to determine how well ocean parks protect sharks. We undertook this research due to shark finning and overfishing. We attached small GPS trackers to the dorsal fins of a shark species called a Grey Reef Shark to follow their movements. These sharks were tagged within a large US-owned protected area in the Pacific that is twice the size of Massachusetts. Previously most marine biologists believed that, as their name suggests, Grey Reef Sharks hung around coral reefs. We were surprised to find that some of the Grey Reef Sharks we tagged travelled a long distance from coral reefs and far out into the open ocean. About one third of our tagged sharks actually travelled outside of the boundaries of the protected area where they could be caught and finned. We shared this discovery with ocean scientists in the US government and they used this data as part of the justification for expanding marine protected areas in the Pacific to better protect at-risk species like sharks.

Original Publication:

White ,Timothy D., Aaron B. Carlisle, David A. Kroodsma, Barbara A. Block, Renato Casagrandi, Giulio A. De Leo, Marino Gatto, Fiorenza Micheli, Douglas J. McCauley, 2017. Assessing the effectiveness of a large marine protected area for reef shark conservation. Biological Conservation 207: 64-71

Link to Publication:

Support Provided by: A grant for “Climate Change Assessment in Small Pacific Islands States” (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change and Politecnico di Milano) and the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (DGE-114747). This is contribution No. 0133 from PARC.

By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.