Interview with Diego Cardenosa, Lead Scientist
Since I was three years old I have been in love with the ocean. I know that sounds odd, since is highly unlikely that I would remember that, but there are many childhood drawings that can prove it. I also remember my parents telling me stories about their incredible diving trips and how amazing the underwater life was. They told stories about their numerous encounters with sharks and other mind-blowing ocean creatures. I soon realized that I wanted to become a biologist, while most of my friends wanted to become firefighters or cops.
My initial interest in biology was prompted by reading books about sharks and marine life that my parents kept giving me as I grew up. They were always encouraging me to follow my dreams, and gave me all the tools they could to keep my curiosity going.
Later, at the end of my undergraduate studies, I had my first real shark research experience volunteering at the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS), Bimini, Bahamas. For seven months I learned many key research skills in the field of marine biology which I have been using since then. This experience further reinforced my drive to concentrate on my chosen career path. My decision was confirmed after I joined a research project for the first time, focusing on the effects of habitat loss on survival and growth rates in the juvenile lemon shark.
How did you get involved with Projects Abroad?
I have been working on my own project called the Alopias Project with scientist from the South West Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC-NOAA), Monterrey Bay Aquarium, Stony Brook University, CICESE and Universidad de Los Andes currently on board. This international research project aims to understand the biology, migrations, population structure, and fisheries interaction with artisanal fishermen of the pelagic thresher shark Alopias pelagicus in the Pacific Ocean. The first results of our work on this project suggest the existence of a potential new shark species in the Pacific Ocean. This was the main result of my MSc. thesis in Biological Sciences at Universidad de los Andes. I am now a published shark biologist.
The last two years were particularly important for me. I traveled to India to attend a Go4BioDiv Youth Forum focused on World Heritage Marine Sites were I represented the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary Malpelo Island. During this experience I also attended the Convention on Biological Diversity as a Youth attendant. Then, I went on a shark and swordfish cruise organized by NOAA at the Southern California Bight, where I learned new research skills. During the second semester I taught a course entitled “Biology and Ecology of Elasmobranchs” at Universidad de Los Andes for 43 students with a very successful field trip to the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas. I also prepared a presentation and video for a CITES meeting recently held in Brazil about the shark molecular identification study. The video will be translated to English and French by the Humane Society International and will be shared in different countries, and published in the Organization of American States website.
Early this year my life completely changed when I started working for the Shark Conservation Project in Fiji with Projects Abroad. I was lucky enough to become involved through the recommendation of Dr Damian Chapman (one of the top shark biologist in the world) and his PhD student Mark Bond. In the last 6 months I have been conducting shark research in one of the top shark destinations in the world, which for me is like my dream playground. I have been having so much fun, seen so many sharks, and worked with so many passionate people that it is a little unfair to even call it a job!
Your Experience with Projects Abroad?
During my time at the Shark Conservation Project in Fiji I would like to think I have learnt most about life. Working with people from all walks of life and sharing our thoughts and cultures with one another. Not only that but I have learnt an incredible amount about shark behavior which I never thought possible. I suppose diving with 50 + magnificent Bull sharks weekly, each with their own personalities and hierarchies, will do that to you.
My dream has always been to become a scientist and to promote change through knowledge. This is exactly what I am doing here with Projects Abroad. Volunteers usually come with little or no knowledge about sharks and at this project I have seen people change their minds about sharks, and I would like to think that they started looking at them the way I see them, not as scary monsters, but as the magnificent and beautiful creatures they are. I strongly believe that the Shark Conservation Project from Projects Abroad will make a huge difference in the way people look at sharks and promote their conservation around the world.
What do you believe is the most important thing that the average person can do to help save sharks?
I believe that the general public can do two important things for sharks. One is to increase awareness and spread the message about conserving them. Projects Abroad is doing some amazing work in order to make this change. They are teaching the Project Aware course which arms the volunteers with the knowledge and heightens their understanding of shark conservation, allowing them to go home and talk confidently with their families, friends, and peers, and hopefully change the common misconception and media stereotype that all sharks are out to attack humans.
One of the main threats to sharks is overfishing. People must be responsible consumers and choose not to be uninformed and purchase or consume any shark products. It doesn’t matter if they come from Asia, Australia, and even Europe, no matter which part of the world you are from you are in some way consuming sharks and aiding to the shark consumption market.
What was the thing that surprised you the most about the project?
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I boarded the plane to Fiji. Over the last 12 months I have seen the project flourish into the leading shark conservation project in the world. We have received the highest number of conservation volunteers with Projects Abroad and have started to be recognized by big players in the shark conservation world. This is mostly thanks to the hard work and incredible passion of Ingrid Sprake and Andy Hill whom without this would not be possible.
What is next for you?
Now that my time with the Shark Conservation Project in Fiji has come to an end, I will be working on my PhD for the next 4 years at Stony Brook University. Again under the supervision of Dr. Damien Chapman.
It has been a privilege to work alongside people with such passion and knowledge in shark conservation and it is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Read more about this project and find out how you can get involved on our Shark Conservation in Fiji page.