My passion for the marine life brought me from Italy to South Africa. An encounter with white sharks during a didactical expedition in 2007 (www.aquariummondomarino.com) made me fall in love with these magnificent animals. As a result I encountered the world known conservationist Michael Rutzen (www.sharkdivingunlimited.com) whom, in 2009 provided me an instrumental access to the field that didn’t stop ever since.
In collaboration with Michael Rutzen and the Branch Oceans and Coasts of the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, I started collecting daily photographs of white shark’s dorsal fins to construct a database of the individual sharks in the area of Gansbaai.
To expanded the photographic identification work to combine a morphological and genetic approach for the identification of individual white sharks I was enrolled at Stellenbosch University as PhD Student in 2011.
White sharks are listed for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, Category VU A1cd+2cd) and are recognized as particularly vulnerable to rapid stock declines. The lack of basic information is arguably the biggest obstacle to plan an effective protection. Understanding the population dynamics can thus play a critical part in developing conservation strategies for these animals.
My PhD project also included a population genetic study of white sharks in South Africa to estimate the numbers of animals present in the coastline, point out the presence of different stocks and the level of genetic segregation between stocks. The PhD project, thanks to the sponsor of Michael Rutzen’ s Shark Diving Unlimited, was therefore extended from Gansbaai to the whole coastline. Several voyages have been successfully completed by sailing around South African coastline with a catamaran, equipped as research vessel. For the PhD project, completed in March 2015, we could successfully identify and catalogued 426 white sharks from over 5000 photographs and more than 300 genetic samples have been collected around the South African coastline.
Since March 2015 I have been enrolled as Post Doctoral researcher in the Department of Botany and Zoology, thanks to the Consolidoc bursary scheme, which will allow me to complete the publications on the findings of the PhD Project and expand even further the complex dynamics of South African white sharks.
Besides my own PhD project, I have been actively involved in the Sharksafe project: a novel and eco-friendly technology that aims to replace beach nets and baited drumlins to protect beach goers from large predatory sharks, without harming the marine life. As a member of the Sharksafe team I have been helping with the field work and the scientific publications.