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Crookedfinger Art: Sustainable Fashion & Art


Crookedfinger Art is an expression of my person style and creative impulses. – Kim Cadenhead

Meet Kim! 

Kim Cadenhead is the founder of Crookedfinger Art.  Kim has a unique quirk, two crooked pinky fingers, a result of a genetic glitch.  Her little quirk resulted in the inspiration for her company name, it is an ode to her unique characteristic which she embraces and has allowed her to flourish as an artist with her original artistic style.  Kim is passionate about various medias for art projects.  Her portfolio includes: paintings on canvas, mixed media, handcrafted sustainable products and graphic t-shirt designs.  Kim recently took part in an artist workshop in North Carolina.  The workshop gave Kim an opportunity to grow as an artist and finesse her painting skills.  Her experience there lead to her latest creative endeavor a series of floral paintings on both canvas and repurposed wooden trays— both wonderful works of art for home decor.


Kim is an artist who is inspired by the environment around her and incorporates the very essence of her surroundings into her paintings, handmade items and mixed media projects.  In my humble option, I view Kim’s most recent floral collection as having a touch of influence from impressionist paintings incorporated with her own modern signature style, blending beautifully together.  Her floral paintings from her 2016 collection are my personal favorites.  Kim sells both original canvas artwork and canvas prints.

Sustainable Fashion and Eco Art

Since moving from Toronto, Canada to the Cayman Islands, Kim has visited local thrift shops to gather materials for her latest sustainable art projects.  It is her aspiration to repurpose materials found locally and transform them in sustainable handcrafted products including: beach tote bags, hand tote bags, messenger bags rugs, pot holders, coasters and even mixed media art pieces.



It is rather astounding when you take a moment to realize the magnitude of materials available that has the potential to be repurposed and used in a sustainable way.  All of her eco-friendly items are handmade.  Kim’s sustainable art pieces have all been made from magazines that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.  Kim is an artist with an eco-conscious mindset.  Her sustainable fashion and home products prove that recycled and repurposed materials can be transformed into chic sustainable products.


Support Local

Kim’s artwork and eco-friendly products are available for sale at Art Nest Creative Studio, at Pasadora Place.  You can also visit Kim at Camana Bay’s local Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays.

Stay Connected

Follow Kim on Facebook, click here

Follow Kim on Instagram, click here 

Visit her website, click here 



Sea of Hope: Preserving the Heart of our Planet


Photo Credit: National Geographic

SEA OF HOPE follows iconic ocean explorer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle, renowned underwater photographer Brian Skerry, author and captain Max Kennedy, and their unlikely crew of teenage aquanauts on a year-long quest to secure their future. Deploying science and photography, they hope to inspire the creation of blue parks across an unseen and imperiled American wilderness.

It was an absolute honor to be published in Mission Blue’s Ocean Stories.  Please visit their website to read my full article Sea of Hope: Preserving the Heart of our Planet.  Sea of Hope is airing 15th January 2017 on National Geographic.


Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts


Epiphany: How A Family Of Explorers & Conservationists Overcame Their Fears


View Epiphany Movie Trailer

A popular definition of epiphany as defined in the Oxford Dictionary is: “A moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.  For me, an epiphany is a sublime moment.  It is an awakening, when your thoughts come into focus and there is a moment of clarity.  The opportunity presents itself as an illuminating thought.  A moment of such great revelation can bring forth incredible things.

I have had the privilege to get to know award-winning filmmaker and wildlife cinematographer Michael Maes and his wife Ellen Cuylaerts, an award-winning wildlife photographer.  They are truly two of the most amazing people I have ever met.  They are inspiring, compassionate, kind, generous, brave and humble people.  I am grateful to know them.  As a family they live intriguing and extraordinary lives as explorers and conservationists.  They explore the world and use their gifts and talents in film and photography to share their passion for conservation with the world.  An underlying message in their documentary Epiphany is the power of film and photography.  I am a firm believer that art whether it is in the form of film, photography, writing or any other genre has the ability to create change and have a positive impact.  The photographs and film both Michael and Ellen share with the world captures stunning encounters with wildlife, marine life and spectacular scenic views of nature.  It serves to remind us this planet is worth fighting for and protecting.  Art has an incredible ability to connect us all on a universal level.


For Michael and Ellen, film and photography is a means for them to contribute to nature and conservation— a way of giving back.  They use their films and photography to educate, and create awareness about various environmental issues.  A strong image whether captured in a still photograph or a moving picture can evoke emotion, share a powerful message and allow an opportunity for one to be enlightened and enriched.  In particular, a scene in their documentary Epiphany with Whale Sharks captures a collection of beautiful moments spent in the presence of these majestic creatures.  There is utter tranquility within this scene and the Whale Sharks swim gracefully.  The scene showed the majesty of sharks— they are not to be feared but respected.  Other scenes with Oceanic White Tips present the elegant poises and patterns of these sharks as they glide through the water, depicting them beautifully in their natural habitat.  The sharks and divers were able to inhabit the space harmoniously.  It is important to note, the divers still had to remain very vigilant at all times.  Ellen and Michael take great care in the composition of their photography by ensuring they develop a connection with the wildlife during their encounter and allow that to translate in their photography.  By doing so, it creates a powerful image illustrating that there is a story and meaning behind every photograph.  The heart of their photography and film is to remind us all what a privilege it is to live on this beautiful planet and to not take for granted our natural resources, the environment, the ocean and all animals.  There is a great urgency for a united effort and action to happen globally to increase conservation of the environment and protection of all animals.  As advocates for the ocean they are keen to promote awareness of the urgency to protect sharks.  Ellen and Michael use film and photography to promote conservation and help rehabilitate the image of sharks by showing us that sharks are to be respected not feared.  The real fear is a life without sharks.  The reality is if sharks continue to be slaughtered for their fins and their population continues to rapidly decline they will face extinction.  Sharks have been roaming the ocean immensely longer than humans have inhabited the planet.  It would be a great tragedy for sharks to become extinct.  There is no coming back from extinction.



Recently, I had the opportunity to watch their documentary Epiphany a film that is inspiring and moving.  The film left a profound impact on me.  It is a film that I hold dear to my heart, as it was truly special to watch a film friends of mine had made and with such admirable bravery they shared their story with the world.  I implore others to watch their award-winning documentary which is currently available on iTunes.  The documentary touches on a variety of themes: the power of art and film, conservation of sharks, environmentalism, Autism, the unbreakable bond of a family and finding bravery to overcome fear.  Michael and his family are incredibly courageous to share a vulnerable side of their lives and their journey through life with the world.  Primarily, the narrative of the film tells the journey of Ellen and how she finds the bravery to overcome her fear of the ocean.  It is her kids that leads Ellen back to nature.  It is on this journey, Ellen rediscovers her love for photography which allows her to overcome her fear of the water by swimming with sharks and photographing them.  The film also touches on Michael and their kids Margaux and Max leading extraordinary lives with autism.  A takeaway from their documentary is that there is a need in this world to look past each others differences and accept one another as they are.  We are all uniquely different and that is what adds to our individual beauty.  There is a need for society to stop labelling and creating divides due to differences— being different can be a remarkable gift.  A beautiful message within in the film, is the families unbreakable bond.  The diagnosis of Autism running in their family understandably initially created a feeling of isolation, fear and hardship.  However, together as a family they were able to thrive and live out their passions.  All of them having wonderfully marvelous courageous lives.  As a family they inspire us all to live a life of compassion, kindness and bravery.



The power and healing of nature is beautifully interwoven within the story which unfolds throughout the documentary.  Nature serves as a catalyst to connect the family together, strengthen their bond and open doors for amazing opportunities to share their passion for conservation, film, photography and art.  A beautiful synergy is built between the family as they collectively immerse themselves in exploring nature and the depths of the ocean.  A profound message the documentary presents is that Ellen is able to move past her fear of the ocean and develop a trust within nature.  The ocean serves as a bit of a paradox in Ellen’s life, while on one hand it is the foundation of her fear of water, yet on the other, it serves to inspire her to contribute to conservation, follow her passion of photography and connect deeply with her family.  By having nature as an integral component of their lives, the differences within the family does not create walls to divide them, in fact nature bridges the family together and anchors them.  Moreover, through expeditions exploring nature, it brings forth a bravery within each of them to overcome their own personal fears.  Through their conservation efforts and giving back to nature, each of them were able embrace their individualism and remain true to themselves and their passion for the environment, photography, film and art.

Meet Michael Maes


Michael Maes is a wildlife filmmaker, specialized in big animals and animal behavior. His portfolio (both underwater and topside) covers the polar regions, temperate waters and the tropics. He has a passionate interest for polar bears and Arctic whales.

His work has been broadcast on various national television like Nat Geo Wild, Outside Television, CBC. It also received recognition at a myriad of international film festivals; reflecting the ability to translate the need for wildlife conservation onto the screen.

In 2015 Michael was inducted as cinematographer in the Ocean Artists Society (, an organization uniting artists worldwide to raise awareness and protect the marine environment through art. Michael is also a founding Navigator of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (, a leading scientific research centre in the Caribbean focusing on coral reef restoration, research on coral resilience, and ocean education.

More About Michael  

Website   (Currently Under Construction)

Check out some of his recent Arctic Work:


Q & A with Award-winning Filmmaker Michael Maes


1. What inspired the documentary and for you to tell this story?

Ellen Cuylaerts; my wife; challenged herself to overcome her fear of water and sharks, culminating her personal growth by feeding those feared sharks. That was the story to which many viewers can relate to.

2. What is the heart of the documentary? Or the core message for audiences to take from watching the film?

Basically Epiphany is a story about all of us. Everyone has his or her fears, everyone faces challenges of life, we can all make decisions to alter our paths.

Epiphany shows the viewer setbacks can be turned into strongholds of life itself.

In short, Epiphany is a story of hope.

3. Did you face any challenges while making this documentary?

Apart from logistical nightmares, the complete lack of privacy for our family during the 18 months of filming was very exigent. Although most of the shootings were at dream locations, we constantly had cameras and microphones pointed at or near us. Especially Ellen as I was fortunate enough to be behind the camera for most of the underwater filming and all areal cinematography.

Next would be the communication between the producer (me) and the rest of the crew. Having autism makes it very difficult to communicate my thoughts; up to a point where I even think I “say” something but I actually only “think” it. That has lead to many difficult situations, frustrations and even words. But, ultimately and always thanks to Ellen, we regrouped and were able to finish a gem.

4. What was one key lesson you learned from making this film?

Don’t think what you say but say what you think!

5. Is there a particular scene in the documentary that resonates with you or has the most significant meaning to you?

To me the most emotional scene in the documentary is at the end where Ellen stands strong among tens of sharks circling her and I (you can’t see that of course as I am filming it) am lying flat on the sand at her feet; filming Ellen from that extreme low angle; all the way up to the water surface; sharks everywhere.

That scene grabs me the most as it portrays in images the fact that Ellen conquered her fear, surrounded by sharks yet she is the one who is in charge! There she stands, holding food next to her body, telling the sharks with her body-language to not come in for the food… she… her… your wife… the mother of your two children… surrounded by sharks… I cannot express how powerful that scene is for a filmmaker who’s the husband of the talent…

As a cinematographer that scene also grabs me as it is – excuse-moi the bragging – simply a formidable shot completed by the genius score of music written by the Belgian musician Eric Bettens.

6. What was your favorite filming location?

Honestly? None! They all had their particular challenges and filmic rewards. A favorite moment I could tell you: a close to two hour dive with only Ellen and myself at Tiger Beach. We were down there without bait or chum. We just wanted to have our Zen moment; away from the fuzzy madness of the production. Did we get rewarded for being there: we had three 12 feet tiger sharks and a bunch of lemons and reefies. A mind-blowing peaceful moment! This footage did not end up in the documentary as the sequences were too long and beautiful to cut. Now that Epiphany is released I will review those amazing scenes again.

7. What do you hope this documentary will accomplish? Or what is your goal or hope for this film?

Of course we want to spread awareness on the sad condition sharks are facing globally. But we also want people to think about their own life and take action if they want to. We want Epiphany to bring hope to those whom are trapped in a fixed pattern, caught in a seemingly hopeless situation.

8. What does the film mean to you and your family?

30 months of blood, sweat and tears.

9. Do you believe film and art has the power to help bring positive changes to the environment?

Many of the world’s environmental issues are far out of reach of most people. Pictures and film bring those issues closer to many, though often in the hard “documenting” way – which is good of course.

Bringing the animals and their world to the beholder in all beauty – nature as it is – makes people see the beauty of those animals. This could lessen the fear of the unknown and invoke interest in the animal or its habitat. Every time I get a message from someone I don’t know telling me some work of mine made him or her get interested in that animal or its environment, is a bigger reward to me than a paycheck.

10. Do you find using art and film as a medium allows you to see the impact and changes in the environment differently, than as opposed to just reading about the issues our environment faces?

As I am a person whom thinks in images, I would believe so. However I feel this question should better be answered by an avid and passionate reader.

More Info about Epiphany 

Website            :

Epiphany on iTunes :

Trailer Epiphany                     :

Special Thanks

Special thanks: Photos and video courtesy of Michael Maes and Ellen Cuylaerts

ian somerhalder with dogs

For The Love Of Animals: Ian Somerhalder Foundation Medical Emergency Grants


Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

A truly heartwarming initiative was started by the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) to aid in the rescue and rehabilitation of animals that have heartbreaking stories of being abused, neglected or suffered a traumatic injury.  These animals are deserving and in need of a second chance.  ISF created their Medical Emergency Program to extend compassion to these animals and assist in aiding to their recovery and wellbeing.  ISF launched their Medical Emergency Grant Program on Valentine’s Day, 2014.  A day symbolizing a commitment of love and compassion towards animals— inspiring others to do the same.  Since the inception of this program, they have helped over 1,000 animals including: cats, dogs, turtles, birds, bats, horses, sheep, cows, sea lions, goats, rabbits, and more.  All have benefited from an ISF Medical Emergency Grant— giving them an improved quality of life, resulting in a touching success stories.  These animal rescues are now living happier lives with their new families in their forever homes. The testimony of these animals show, that animals have an incredible resilience no matter how difficult the hardship they faced.  They also remind of us of the incredible bond animals establish with humans, despite the suffering they endured, once they found a new and loving family in a safe environment they continue to express love unconditionally.

Animals have an exquisitely poignant way of teaching us, through demonstration, how to love and be loved. We learn compassion, as well as expand our perception of the infinite connection to the environment around us, from our creature friends–whether they are furry and lick us, or slither and swim. We owe it to these creatures to provide protection, healing and love. That is exactly why I am so proud that the IS Foundation has launched our first grant program — the Emergency Medical Grant for Animals – Ian Somerhalder

ISF provides grants to both the US and Canada and works closely with dedicated teams of amazing rescuers in various parts of the US and Canada who are on the front line every day finding animals in need of a better life and urgent care.  These admirable individuals advocate on the behalf of these animals.  Animals that receive an Emergency Medical Grant have been found either, abused, neglected or have suffered a traumatic injury.  ISF reviews applications and typically makes a decision within a week.  They then have the money sent out the following week to the treating veterinarians and rescuers.  The ISF Medical Emergency Grant criteria and eligibility can be found on the ISF website, Grant Information Page.  “The purpose of this grant is to provide animal victims a second chance by alleviating their rescuers of the financial stress of treatment so they can focus on facilitating the animal’s adoption into a permanent, loving home” ISF works with individuals, animal rescuers, veterinarians and non-profit organizations seeking to rescue and rehabilitate animal victims.  (ISF)

The ISF Medical Emergency Grants Program has done an incredible job of bettering the lives of so many animals.  Animals that have had the opportunity to recover and rehabilitate now have wonderful success stories inspiring us all to help protect and care for animals in need.  ISF has established a network of dedicated animal rescuers (grantees) and built amazing relationships with them over the past 2 years.  Their collaboration and teamwork has created a positive impact.  An added bonus, the ISF have met so many loving animals that have greatly benefited from their program.  In instances when the animal in need and the rescuer are near by, the ISF take the opportunity to meet with the animal and rescuer(s).  The ISF have shared a plethora of wonderful heartwarming success stories of the animals they have help give a second chance to. To read their success stories visit their grant success page.  Their dedication to provide resources to assist in bringing a life changing positive impact on the lives of animals that have deeply suffered, inspires us all to work together to be a voice for animal victims that have endured a painful hardship.

Must Love Animals

Below are a few success stories of the ISF Medical Emergency Grant

Meet Elsa


Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Meet Ozzy


Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Meet Twinkle Toes


Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

To support the Ian Somerhalder Foundation and stay up-to-date with their projects follow them on Facebook and Twitter or visit their website 

The Cayman Islands: A Haven for Sharks & Rays


Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

The Cayman Islands has built its name and reputation primarily on being a renowned diving destination.  Pioneers in our local diving community over the last few decades contributed to building our diving industry into the premier operation that it is today.  They recognized the exquisite beauty our underwater landscape had to offer and have since then made it accessible for locals and tourists to recreationally experience and explore the beauty that lies below the surface for themselves.  With a desire to showcase our natural resources comes with a commitment to preserve them.  Our duty towards conservation for both land and the ocean is beneficial not just from an environmental perspective but also an economic one.  Our tourism industry is strongly tied to our island’s natural resources.  Ergo, an obvious reason to ensure that our natural resources are protected.  Last year on Earth Day (2015), the Cayman Islands officially became a Sharks and Rays Sanctuary.  The sanctuary expands across all three islands.  This is a positive step towards ecotourism as many tourists are keen to visit places that are committed to conservation.


Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts


“I’m extremely grateful that the Cayman Islands recognized the need to make the islands a shark and ray sanctuary. Not only will their protected status benefit the health of the reefs but it’s also a strong statement towards the tourism industry which is an important source of revenue. By protecting our natural resources the Cayman Islands puts itself in the the market of the informed and eco friendly tourist making the right choice for the future generations.” -Ellen Cuylaerts

Sharks in the Water


Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

By virtue of us standing by and not acting to protect coral reefs and marine life that are under threat there is a very likely possibility that corals reefs will continue to become degraded and even destroyed.  The caribbean has already lost 80% of its coral reefs.  There is an intricate connection between coral reefs and all marine life.  If keystone species such as sharks continue to decrease in population it will have a tremendous impact on the coral reefs and the marine life that depend on the reefs.  A scary thought that should be racing through everyone’s minds is what if I never see a shark in the water again?  Our fear should be driven by the thought of what will happen to our ocean and the ecosystem if shark populations globally continues to spiral down or worse become extinct.  Sharks are a keystone species and are fundamental to maintaining the health and balance of: coral reefs, marine life and the ocean.  Without their presence there could potentially be a devastating collapse within our fragile ecosystem as their role in keeping our “life support” viable is monumental.  Ultimately, we need a healthy ocean as 70% of the world’s oxygen comes from there.  Healthy shark populations means healthy reefs.  Coral reefs support 1/4 of all marine life.  Healthy reefs means a flourishing population of marine life.  This is beneficial for: our ecosystem, recreational divers, snorkelers and for fisherman.  Balance within our ecosystem is key to benefiting the preservation of the planet, as well as a thriving diving industry, tourism industry and fisherman.

We can’t fail to act to protect our ocean and marine life.  The ocean is often referred to as the heart of the planet.  There seems to be a collective assumption that the ocean is indestructible, that no matter the amount of pollution pumped into the ocean it will always reset itself, that there will always be coral reefs and an abundance of fish, sharks and all marine life.  It is as though we cannot fathom the thought that it could all go away one day.  The reality is the ocean like anything else has its limitations.  We cannot keep testing the ocean’s ability to bounce back.  It is evident that the ocean is under an immense amount stress due to climate change and the rapid decrease in the populations of a multitude of marine species.  For instance, sharks and rays are under threat.  Every year, 70 million sharks are killed for their fins (Fin Free).  In comparison it is reported that targeted Manta Ray populations have declined by an estimated 56% to 88% in recent years (Wild Aid).  With this in mind, there is an urgency for countries around the world to declare their waters as a shark and rays sanctuary.  The more protection coverage of the ocean for sharks and rays will by virtue allow for coral reefs, and fish populations to have time to recover and recuperate.  This is beneficial to everyone.


Specifically to our waters, current research indicated that we have a lower shark population than expected for a healthy reef ecosystem.  This suggests that our waters need an increase in sharks to ensure our coral reefs can remain healthy.  Shark populations recover over a significant period of time and sanctuaries can provide a safe haven for populations to recuperate.  Presently, there are no comparative ray nor shark surveys specific to our region.  It is difficult to state how our population of sharks and rays compares to other islands in the Caribbean.  However, some research conducted by Marine Conservation International (Research Partners of Department of Environment Cayman Islands) suggests that Cayman’s shark numbers are relatively low in comparison to our Caribbean neighbors.  Notably, numbers will vary from species to species.  However, our waters have a fair population of sharks and rays. Both species are being threatened across the Caribbean and around the world.  Protecting sharks and rays regionally will benefit not only our territory but also on a global scale as it encourages other countries to designate their waters as a sanctuary for these magnificent creatures.  It is evident that the protection of sharks and rays needs to be made as a united effort, and the Cayman Islands is doing their part to help in this initiative.  Now that our waters have been designated as a shark and ray sanctuary there is hope that it  will give our shark population a chance to recover.

A Sanctuary for Sharks, Rays & Coral Reefs


The sanctuary serves as a haven for our sharks and rays. Our sharks and rays are of great significance to our coral reefs and marine environment both ecologically and economically.  Most importantly their protection is needed to ensure their survival —our ecosystem depends on it.

The sanctuary also serves as a means to benefit our island not only from an ecological standpoint but economically.  The protection of sharks and rays has a direct impact on benefiting our tourism industry.  Sharks are a highlight for divers.  Whereas, rays can be seen in a large school at Stingray City located at the sandbar on the eastern side of Grand Cayman.  Protecting our sharks and rays within our region will not only allow for a positive impact on improving the health of our coral reefs but also it will help to maintain our status as a popular diving destination.  Flourishing reefs serve us ecologically but as an added bonus they are attractive diving spots helping our tourism industry and economy.


Declaring Cayman waters as a sharks and rays sanctuary is a positive step towards ecotourism and beneficial for our islands.  Countries making a shift towards ecotourism demonstrates that we can find a balance between developing the economy of a country but not at the cost of losing their natural resources.  It is possible to use our natural resources and benefit from them and not destroy them —rather there is an emphasis on the preservation of natural resources as they have intrinsic value.  Specific to Caribbean islands our natural resources are everything to our tourism industry which greatly impacts our economy.  For Cayman, we could look at the ocean as the very soul of our island.  Our culture is bound to the ocean and it is imperative that we continue to move forward in protecting our ocean, coral reefs, marine life and natural environment.  Cayman’s transition into ecotourism has helped to establish the Cayman Islands as setting a positive example for other islands in the Caribbean by way of encouraging other islands to consider becoming a sharks and rays sanctuary to increase the coverage of areas that serve as a haven for them.  While, our waters protect a small percentage of sharks and rays in our region, and is making a positive impact, it would be greatly beneficial if other regional countries made their waters a sanctuary.  Alone, we can make a small difference, but together we can make a much stronger impact.  Protecting the coral reefs, marine life, sharks and rays is a global need.  


Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts


This article was also published in Mission Blue’s Ocean Stories please click here 

A Call to Action: Help Shark Conservation. Adopt a Shark.

As custodians of our stunning coral reefs and charismatic marine life, for over 30 years the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) has been protecting our island’s precious marine environment by establishing marine parks. Since 2015, the DOE increased marine protection by designating Cayman’s waters as a sharks and rays sanctuary, under the National Conservation Law. In part of DOE’s shark conservation efforts, shark research is an ongoing project to gather data about Cayman’s shark populations and monitor their behavior and patterns. Additionally, CayBrew’s Whitetip Fund supports DOE’s shark project with a focus on tagging sharks to improve shark research and conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. The shark project utilizes four methods as a means to comprehensively gather pertinent data about Cayman’s sharks. The methods used are: tagging with an acoustic transmitter, BRUV (baited remote underwater video) surveys, photo identification of individual sharks and shark sighting logging. To read more about this ongoing project click here

Sharks are of significant value to our coral reefs and other marine environments. According to a report by Marine Conservation International and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) the added value to marine tourism of having sharks on the reef is about US$54 million per year. Sharks are worth more alive than dead! To ensure the balance of the marine ecosystems are in check, we need healthy populations of sharks. Sharks play an integral role in maintaining the health and balance of marine ecosystems. As advocates for sharks and ocean conservation, in an united effort we can help to protect sharks and other marine life through the conservation of our oceans.

Donate to Cayman’s shark project

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Cayman’s shark research relies on external funding and donations. Please support the DOE shark research team to help protect our sharks in the Cayman Islands. By simply, donating your time or money (no matter how small the amount) to this project will help the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to achieve their goals working towards the betterment of shark conservation. 100% of the donation will go directly to shark conservation in Cayman.

For more information on donation packages email:

If you would like to become a sharklogger, please email:

Sponsor an Acoustic Transmitter and Adopt a shark

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

The DOE/MCI shark research relies on independent funding and support. The research team is planning on tagging more sharks with acoustic transmitters within the next 3 years. Corporations and other organizations can play a role in helping the DOE to better understand sharks. Adopt a shark! Corporations can make a donation to purchase an acoustic transmitter or receiver and in return for their commitment to help sharks, they can name the shark that is tagged. For further details and information on donation packages please contact:


Behind the Scenes: Working with Sharks

Watch this video to see what a typical day of shark research and tagging is like.


Johanna Kohler


Sharks of the Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands are known for being a popular diving destination in the Caribbean with over 365 dive sites. Some of the main attractions of dive sites in the Cayman Islands include wreck diving at famous shipwrecks such as, the Kittiwake, the Balboa, the Oro Verde as well as our biodiverse reefs. In order to help maintain our status as a diving destination hotspot, the Cayman Islands for over 30 years, has been protecting its marine life and reefs with Marine Parks. In 2015, the Cayman Islands increased their ocean conservation as the National Conservation Law effectively put protection measures in place for sharks and rays. Sharks are an apex predator, at the top of the marine food chain, as a result they regulate the species at lower down the chain levels, helping to keep marine ecosystems such as reefs balanced. Sharks therefore are a considerable asset to our islands reefs and other marine ecosystems. Additionally, sharks are beneficial to ecotourism as many visiting snorkelers and divers are keen to see large charismatic marine life, and sharks tend to be one of the main attractions. According to a report by Marine Conservation International and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) the added value to marine tourism of having sharks on the reef is about US$54 million per year. For divers and snorkelers, seeing a shark is both a privilege and a highlight. There are 8 species of sharks commonly found in the Cayman Islands, including: Great Hammerhead, Nurse shark, Lemon shark, Caribbean Reef shark, Blacktip, Tiger shark, Oceanic Whitetip and Silky shark. Amongst the variety of shark species found in the Cayman Islands, some species of sharks reside in Cayman waters all year long and inhabit coastal waters. Whereas, other species of sharks are pelagic and seasonally pass through Cayman while on migratory routes.

Coastal Sharks

There are four common species of coastal sharks that can be found in the Cayman Islands: Nurse sharks, Lemon sharks, Caribbean Reef sharks, and Blacktip sharks. They frequently inhabit areas including mangroves, turtle grass, sand beds and coral reefs. Coastal sharks tend to inhabit shallow, near shore regions.

Nurse Sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) resting under a coral head on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Elly Wray

Nurse sharks tend to be known for their docile behavior. Some might even refer to them as the “puppies” of the ocean as some may demonstrate a friendly demeanor. Nurse sharks are creatures of habit. Once they find a favorite resting spot(s) they tend to frequently inhabit that area. In some instances, nurse sharks can be found “hiding” under coral or tucked away in shipwrecks as they rest during the day and are more active at night. An interesting fact about nurse sharks is that they are one species of sharks that is able to rest on the sea floor and actively pump water over their gills. Nurse sharks are typically found in tropical and subtropical waters at depths up to 240ft. Unfortunately, Nurse sharks often fall victim to a case of mistaken identity, as they are often mistaken for Lemon sharks. This is a result of Nurse sharks and Lemon sharks being similar in body shape and coloration. Nurse sharks vary from a dark grey to yellow brown in coloration and can grow up to 14ft in length.

Facts about Nurse sharks

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): *

Data Deficient (Globally)

Least Concern (Central America & Caribbean)

• Population Trend: Unknown

• Life Span: unknown but thought to be around 25 years

• Max Length: ~14ft (430cm)

• Reproduction: Ovoviviparous

• Gestation Period: 5-6 months

• Litter Size: 20-30

• Size at Birth: ~ 12 inches (31cm)

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Below is a helpful chart showcasing similarities and differences between Nurse sharks and Lemon sharks.

Lemon Sharks (Negaprion brevirostris)

Juvenile Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) near mangroves on Little Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Lemon sharks, as their name suggests, are recognizable due to their yellow brown color. They grow up to 11ft in length. Lemon sharks are found in the tropical Western and Northeast Atlantic and East Pacific. Lemon sharks are quite adaptable to varying water conditions. They are among a few shark species that are tolerant of relatively high water temperatures. Due to living in shallow coastal waters, Lemon sharks can also adapt to water conditions with low salinity and low oxygen concentration levels. Lemon sharks have been known to be fairly gentle and non-aggressive, but – as with any wild animal one must always be careful and alert.

Facts about Lemon Sharks

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Near Threatened (Globally)

• Population Trend: Unknown

• Life Span: ~ 25 years

• Max Length: ~11ft (340cm)

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 12 months

• Litter Size: 4-17

• Size at Birth: ~ 20 inches (31cm)

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)

Male Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

As the name suggests, Caribbean Reef sharks are typically found in the Caribbean as well as Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic Ocean. Due to their preference to inhabit Caribbean waters, these sharks are inclined to stay near to a shallow coral reef habitat. They particularly like reef drop offs and outer reef walls. Caribbean Reef sharks are known as one of the apex predators in the coral reef system and they prey on a variety of reef fish and squid. As a result, their presence is important to help maintain a balance of reef fish. Caribbean Reef sharks have been known to be mistaken for a Blacktip sharks due to their similar body shape and coloration.

Facts about Caribbean Reef sharks

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List):* Near Threatened (Globally)

• Population Trend: Decreasing

• Life Span: 25 years

• Max Length: historically up to ~9ft (2.8m), but now ~7ft (2.2m) due to fishing pressure.

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 12 months

• Litter Size: 4-6

• Size at Birth: ~ 29 inches / 74cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Below is a helpful table indicating the differences between Caribbean Reef sharks and Blacktip sharks

Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) captured on BRUV survery, Dept. of Environment. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler.

As the name suggests, Blacktip sharks get their name due to the black tips or edges found on their pectoral, pelvic and dorsal fins. Blacktip sharks are considered to be very timid and as a result they tend to be skittish and try to avoid divers. This makes it rather difficult to encounter Blacktip sharks as they are very shy and swim fast. Blacktip sharks can be found in tropical and subtropical coastal waters in depths up to 100ft.

Facts about Blacktip Sharks

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Near Threatened (Globally)

• Population Trend: Unknown

• Max Length: ~5.5ft (1.7m)

• Life Span: at least 12 years

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 11-12 months

• Litter Size: 1-10

• Size at Birth: 22-24 inches / 56-61cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Pelagic Sharks

Pelagic sharks, also known as oceanic sharks, love open waters. They inhabit open waters of the oceans and seas. Various species of pelagic sharks are known to visit Cayman waters on their migratory route. During their voyage through our region they can typically be found in deep waters just offshore, yet may come for a visit to our reefs.

Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyma mokarran)

Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Living the dream divers, North Wall

Great Hammerhead sharks are the largest of the hammerhead species, reaching up to 18-20ft long. They are found in tropical coastal and open waters worldwide. Great Hammerhead sharks have a tendency to be lone travelers and seldom travel in groups. A cool fact about Hammerhead sharks is that their “hammer” shaped head combined with electro-pores allows them to use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate throughout the oceans. Hammerhead sharks famous for their “hammer” shaped heads, are an endangered species. Populations of this species of shark have declined by more than 80% in the last 25 years.

Facts about Great Hammerhead sharks

IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Endangered (Globally).

• Population Trend: Decreasing

• Max Length: ~18-20ft (6.0m)

• Life Span: 20-30 years

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 11 months

• Litter Size: up to ~50 pups

• Size at Birth: 23-27 inches / 58-69cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Tiger Sharks (Gladeocerdo cuvier)

Juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) captured on BRUV survey by the Dept. of Environment. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Tiger sharks get their name from their visually striking striped pattern that resembles that of a tiger. Their name might give the impression that they are fast swimmers, however, they are actually relatively slow. Tiger sharks can be found in tropical and subtropical oceans in both coastal and open waters. Tiger sharks prey mainly on rays and turtles. The deepest known sighting of a Tiger shark in the Cayman Islands was seen at the Cayman trench at just shy of 900ft.

Facts about Tiger Sharks

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Near Threatened (Globally)

• Population Trend: Unknown

• Max Length: ~18-20ft (5.5->6.0m)

• Life Span: 20-50 years

• Reproduction: Ovoviviparous

• Gestation Period: 16 months

• Litter Size: 10-80

• Size at Birth: 20-35 inches / 50-89cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

Oceanic Whitetip sharks have distinctive white marks on the tips of their fins. They are epipelagic and as such live predominantly in the upper 660ft of the ocean water column and can often be found near the surface of water. They are active both day and night and move at a slow pace. In the past 50 years, world fisheries have drastically reduced their populations. Specifically, in the Gulf of Mexico, their populations have dramatically declined by 99.3%.

Facts about Oceanic Whitetip

• IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Vulnerable (globally) Critically Endangered (Gulf of Mexico)

• Population Trend: Decreasing

• Max Length: ~13ft (4.0m)

• Life Span: unknown but thought to be around 25 years

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 10-12 months

• Litter Size: 1-15

• Size at Birth: 23-25 inches / 58-64cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falcifromis)

Silky sharks are known to be largely pelagic, inhabiting the open ocean. However, on occasion immature sharks can be found in coastal reef systems. Silky sharks are known to have smooth skin, silk like, and hence their name. They are relatively small sharks, but have distinctly large eyes and are swift swimmers.

Facts about Silky sharks

IUCN Conservation Status (Red List): * Near Threatened (globally)

• Max Length: ~5.5ft (1.7m)

• Life Span: at least 12 years

• Reproduction: Viviparous

• Gestation Period: 6 months

• Litter Size: 1-10

• Size at Birth: 22-24 inches / 56-61cm

• Mating Cycle: Every 2 years

What to do with a hooked shark?

Male Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) with hook and line remains on Grand Cayman Photo Credit: Indigo Divers

Despite protection measures, sharks are still threatened by local fishing in Cayman. Fishing and fishing charters are popular among Caymanians, residents and visitors. Although fishermen don’t target sharks, no fishing methods is 100% selective. This is why sharks may bite the bait or get caught by going for the snapper or grouper struggling on the line. The accidental catch or by catch of sharks is still a significant threat to our local populations. If these sharks die, it will have a massive negative impact on our shark populations. Compared to other fish, sharks grow rather slowly, mature late (some sharks mature when they are 8 – 20 years of age), have long gestation periods ((they are pregnant for up to 1.5 – 2 years) and produce relative few young. These life characteristics limit the reproduction rate of a shark population and its ability to replenish itself quickly. Additionally if immature sharks are killed before they are able to reproduce they miss their chance to contribute their genes to the next generation.

The DOE recommends the following for the release of sharks in case of accidental shark catch:

Using extreme caution attempt to:

• Cut the hook and remove hook from shark OR Cut the line as close to the hook as comfortable

• Use non stainless steel hooks

• Use Circle Hooks

• Keep fight/handle time short to reduce stress and trauma on the shark

• Report the incident to DOE

Sharks have incredible self-healing powers and a strong immune system. Once the hook is out (either cut or rusted away) the hook wound will heal quickly.

Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi) with hook on Grand Cayman


Johanna Kohler

Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE)

* The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” summarizes the conservational status for each species (


Johanna Kohler and Laura Butz


Working with Sharks

Ever wondered what it would be like to be a shark researcher for a day? Today’s feature is a Q&A with Johanna Kohler, Shark Project Research Officer at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.  Johanna Kohler is an accomplished Marine Biologist, specializing in shark behavior and ecology, currently based in the Cayman Islands. She has gained valuable experience from both, working and traveling, all over the world, giving her an impressive portfolio in the field. As an advocate for ocean conservation, Johanna Kohler is passionate about protecting and preserving sharks. Her respect and love for sharks is evident through her commitment to study sharks in order to gain valuable insight for the betterment of shark conservation. Sharks are majestic creatures that have unfortunately been misunderstood. As a result sharks are mostly portrayed in a negative light, resulting in them being wrongly feared. In actuality what we should be afraid of is an ocean without sharks, not an ocean with sharks. Sharks play a vital role in regulating the health of the ocean and keeping marine ecosystems in check. A healthy shark population is vital to ensure healthy coral reefs and thriving fisheries. One of the greatest threats sharks face is mankind. Shark populations have drastically declined over the last decades due to sharks being slaughtered for their fins, meat, liver, skin and teeth around the world. According to the IUCN red list, many species of sharks are now threatened or even endangered. Great strides have been made globally to increase the protection of sharks by way of establishing shark and ray sanctuaries as well as marine protected areas. Education along with conservation is key to ensure the protection and preservation of sharks worldwide and locally. A disconnect develops when one fears what they do not understand. Therefore, shark research is important, as it is a means to understanding more about sharks and debunking myths about them. Through education, one can begin to change the general public perception of sharks to make humans realize that sharks are not man eating monsters, but rather shy animals that are beneficial to our oceans. Johanna Kohler supports educational outreach in schools and to other occasions such as shark talks in bars and diving centers. She believes in the saying: You protect what you love and can only love what you know. For Cayman’s people to get to know sharks, she spearheaded the SharKY Fest last year. The Fest was a celebration of the first anniversary of the shark protection measures which came into force April 2015 in the Cayman Islands. The SharKY Fest involved local businesses, families, schools, the National Trust, Ellen Cuylaerts, divers and diving centre, fishermen, and the shark project’s main sponsor CayBrew.

Read below what it is like to study and work with Cayman’s sharks and what drives her to continuously work towards a better understanding and protection of these fascinating animals.

Interview with a shark researcher – Johanna Kohler

Notes: Johanna Kohler, Dept. of Environment, during the download of the acoustic receiver array on all Cayman islands. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

1. What inspired you to become a shark researcher?

Ever since, I have been fascinated by the ocean and its inhabitants. In High School I’ve enjoyed all science classes. Between my high school degree and university, I’ve gained more knowledge and hands-on experience in various fields of marine biology. Working with and in the marine environment to conserve and protect it, is my passion. Due to my travels, volunteering, diving and work experiences, I’ve become conscious of the impact of anthropogenic activities, including eco-tourism, on the marine environment. Especially, the work as dive instructor on Cyprus, has influenced my perception. During my dives, I had the opportunity to compare the remains of a former magnificent ecosystem under a dynamite fishing regime, on the Greek side of the island, to the fauna and flora of protected artificial reefs, and the Turkish side of the island, where no dynamite fishing had taken place. Sharks in particular fascinate me. I love the way they move. Next to my studies I’ve enjoyed working alongside leading scientists in the field which only increased my interest and passion for these amazing animals. Realizing that we still know so little about them which leads to many myths causing people to hate and kill sharks, inspired me to become a Marine Biologist to study these misunderstood animals. I intend to use my knowledge to develop better ways of protecting the marine environment and its wildlife, as well as teaching others about it in turn.

2. What is the key role(s) or aspect(s) of your job?

As part of the Shark Project research team the main aspect of my job is to monitor the relative abundance and behavior of our sharks species in Cayman. The monitoring involves various methods including BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video /i.e. camera traps) surveys, acoustic telemetry, photo identification and the Sharkloggers, a citizen science initiative. My job is it to plan and execute each survey to ensure data collection. One other aspect of my job is to investigate further the movement and ecology of our sharks populations, also with regards to Marine Protected Areas, to improve and inform conservation management. I’m also leading the Sharklogger programme which involves working closely with diving centers and recreational divers in order to track the movements and behavior of our sharks. When divers report sharks to the DOE (dead or alive), my job is it to archive the sightings in the DOE database. Since I’ve started out as dive instructor, I love this part of my job. Lastly, I give talks in schools and to other occasions to promote public awareness of sharks and the shark conservation legislation amongst local communities as well as to share new research findings.

3. Describe a typical work day?

This varies a lot day – to -day and with season. During a field season I’m on the boat every day, mostly all day, to collect data. Depending on the work that has to be done, I’m either deploying BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems) or dive to download the acoustic receivers or collect footage and behavioral data from our sharks. When we tag sharks with acoustic transmitter it may also involve boat work during some nights depending on the species that we want to tag. Sometimes I spend half the day on the boat and the other half to clean and preparing the gear for our next trip as well as with data analysis in front of the laptop. When the field season is over, I spend the time going through the data and work on analyzing the information which involves a lot of desk and laptop work and some occasional days on the water.

4. What is it like traveling for work to various diving locations?

I love to work in the field and I consider myself lucky to be able to work in the stunning Cayman waters and dive all these amazing sites. Despite the desk work during off season, I get to spend most of the year in/on the water with these fascinating animals. Travelling to different places is exciting and fun, but can become hard work when you have to plan the logistics of your gear. One trip to the sister islands involves packing 5 – 13 boxes of gear, transporting them to Cayman Airways Cargo, sending them off and collecting them on the other side, and unpacking everything before we can even begin the work. When it’s time to head back to Grand Cayman it’s everything all over again. Despite the challenging logistic in terms of our equipment, I love to travel to the sister islands. There is something special about them and the diving is amazing.

5. What advice would you give students interested in becoming a shark researcher?

The DOE research team deploys an acoustic tag on a tiger shark at night on Grand Cayman. Johanna Kohler and Dr Mauvis Gore (Marine Conservation International). Photo Credit: Michael Maes.

Get hands – on experience in the field. I grew up in the middle of Germany, far away from any ocean. I had to make plan to gain the necessary practical skills. Before and during my studies I’ve volunteered and shadowed marine biologist in the field. This way I got boat and diving experience, worked in aquariums and helped other PhD students with their fieldwork. This way I got to work with sharks from the start and became more and more skilled in handling the animals as well as working on the water.

Register at a University. I’ve attended all science classes in high school which helped me when I started University. To major in Marine Biology and Oceanography you will have to attend chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology and statistics. Don’t skip these. These subjects are fundamental to build upon and the broader you start out the better your basis of knowledge.

Work really hard. I’ve worked and volunteered on weekends which involved really early mornings, longs days or late nights – all in my spare time. If I had a day free of lectures I would work on my desk work ahead of time so that I could spend the day in the field volunteering.

Be like a sponge. Marine biology comes naturally to me. This of course makes it easier to understand and remember things I read or someone explains to me. Ask lots of questions when you volunteer in the field. When I’ve worked with more experienced people I would ask thousands of questions – and I still do – to learn from them. You never stop learning, there is always room to improve.

Read and write as much as you can. When it is your passion you will want to find out more about a certain topic. Ask questions. Practice your scientific writing skills but also make sure you are able to explain the science to members of the public that may not know that much about science. As scientist and shark researcher it is important to be able to communicate the research finding with the public.

Don’t give up. Make sure it is your passion. There may be times when it is hard and you question why you do what you do. I know I did and sometimes still do. However, if sharks are your passion this will keep you going through the harder times where you may doubt yourself. In the end all the hard work will be worth it.

6. What is your favorite shark species?

Juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) captured on BRUV survey by the Dept. of Environment. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Sharks will always surprise you, it doesn’t matter how much you know about them. Each individual is different. I love the Caribbean reef sharks in Cayman. Diving with them and getting to know each character by meeting the same individuals again is really special. My favorite shark is the Tiger shark. I love their pattern and head. Baby tiger sharks look very cute with their big eyes, small snout and the gorgeous shiny pattern on their bodies. Despite many shark encounters over the years, I always take a shark encounter seriously. These animals are deeply misunderstood and often portrayed as scary, man eating monsters. As top predators in the ocean, sharks do deserve our healthy respect. Once you have dived with sharks you will see that they are fascinating, majestic animals that don’t need to be feared. In contrary, you may be surprised how shy sharks can be when all you see is their tail disappear in the blue.

7. What current research project are you working on?

Currently, we’ve just finished up our main field season which included the Spring/Summer BRUV survey, the acoustic receiver download on all three islands and shark tagging. In the next few months I will analyze the collected data and continue with a small scale study on juvenile sharks in the sounds. I’m also planning on some more events for the Sharkloggers and may hold a few talks.

Juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) captured on BRUV survey by the Dept. of Environment. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler









Johanna Kohler

Department of Environment


10 things you didn’t know about Cayman’s sharks

Today’s feature is a guest post by Johanna Kohler.

1. Little Cayman and Brac escape.

Fig 1: Map with tracks of a tagged female Caribbean reef shark(Carcharhinus perezi) moving between all three of the Cayman Islands over 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Some individuals of our Caribbean reef shark population travel between Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.  A female Caribbean reef shark which was tagged in 2013 in Grand Cayman traveled regularly to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac over the next 3 years before its tag died in 2015.

2. What’s your name?

• Bash Brothers and Little Basher – Bro action

Little Basher

Fig 2: One Bash Brother (gill scar) on right and Little Basher on left, two local Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) from East End, Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

The Bash Brothers are two male sharks in East End of Grand Cayman. They like to swim together, one behind the other on the edge of the wall. Recently a smaller male shark has joined the team – hence “Little Basher”. One of the Bash Brothers has a distinctive scar on its gills. Some days they may be inquisitive on other days they may ignore you. When you go diving within their home range they may show up.

• Scarlet/Smudge – the friendly Caribbean reef shark

Fig 3: Scarlet, also known as Smudge. Local female Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) from East End, Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Scarlet, also known as Smudge, is an old local at East End of Grand Cayman. She is easily spotted by her dark birth mark on the corner of her mouth. She isn’t the largest shark East but she will stay with you during a dive and makes a great object for photos because of her calm nature.

• Fin – the nurse shark

Fig 4: Local Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) called Fin on the West side of Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Amanda Nicholls

Fin the friendly Nurse shark is a well-known individual among local divers and has many, many, many names. SHE (not he) has a distinctive scar on its mouth probably from a hook encounter years ago. She lives on the West Side of Grand Cayman and comes very close to divers and sometimes stays with a group of divers during their entire dive.

107 – the Legend

Fig 5: Tagged female Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Little Cayman. Tag number: DOE 107. Photo Credit: Anthony Scott

This female shark is a legend in Little Cayman. She is well known to local divers and a welcomed visitor.  She was tagged by the DOE/MCI research team in 2010. Back then when she was 1.5 m long. Her nick name originates from her dorsal fin tag number “DOE #107”. Over the past 7 years she stayed around, survived a hook in her stomach, and grew up to an estimated 2.2 m. By now she is the dominant female North of Little Cayman. She may show up during a dive, patrolling her home range.

3. Bendy, twisty Nurse sharks

Fig 6: BRUV (Baited remote underwater video) footage of Nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) investigating the bait bag. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

Sharks are all serious and always on a mission? Not so Nurse sharks. These sharks can bend and twist their bodies, even are able to lie on their back, to get to their prey (e.g. Lobsters, conch) which may hide in crevices. Also these sharks would rather suck their prey out of their shell. Their teeth are like sandpaper and their strong jaws are able to crack the outer shell of their prey. The BRUV footage (underwater camera traps) documents this behavior. Often Nurse sharks lie on their back under the bait bag to try suck the bait out of the fined meshed bag.

4. Rest, chill and breathe

Fig 7: Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) resting under a coral head on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Elly Wray

Some of our sharks don’t have to swim in order to breathe. As you may know sharks are fish and use gills to breathe rather than lungs. Most sharks have between five to seven gills slits on each side of their head. The gills oxygenate the blood. Most sharks need to swim in order to breathe. This way of breathing is called “ram ventilation”. That’s why most sharks swim with a slightly opened mouth to allow the water to flow in and over their gills as they move through the water. Caribbean reef sharks, Nurse sharks and Lemon sharks however are able to breath when stationary. When these species swim they also respire via ram ventilation. But while resting, these sharks pump water actively over their gills to ensure oxygenation.

5. Dorsal fin tags – what’s that all about?

Fig 8: Orange DOE dorsal fin tag showing tag size and position on shark’s dorsal fin.

Some of our sharks have an orange dorsal fin tag. Over time the tag may be overgrown by algae in which case it may be green or have fallen out leaving a scar behind. The Dept. of Environment (DOE) and Marine Conservation International have been tagging sharks in Cayman since 2009. This research project is largely funded by CayBrew’s Whitetip Conservation Fund. You are able to spot tagged sharks via the dorsal fin tag (or it’s residual on the shark’s dorsal fin). If you see a tagged shark report it to the DOE ( to add your sightings to the DOE database and help local shark research.

Fig 9: Tagged female Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) with divers in East End Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Lois Hatcher, Ocean Frontiers

6. Mistaken Identity

Identifying fish in general requires some knowledge and skills. When it comes to identifying sharks species some shark species look quite distinctive. Some shark species however have quite similar features which may cause some confusion and make identification tricky. The following clues may help to determine what kind of shark you’ve encountered during your dive or snorkel.

Nurse and Lemon sharks

The colouration and profile of Nurse and Lemon sharks look pretty similar. Both dorsal fins (sharks have two dorsal fins) are similar in size and the position of the first dorsal fin (far back) is similar in both species. To distinguish a Nurse shark from a Lemon shark focus on the following:

Nurse Shark

Lemon Shark, Fig 10: Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) left and Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) right. Nurse shark photo credit: Amanda Lawrence; Lemon shark photo credit: Johanna Kohler

Blacktip and Caribbean reef sharks

Blacktip sharks and Caribbean reef sharks look alike from a far. Even when they do come close they still look alike. Both have “black tips” and to make it more confusing, Caribbean reef sharks have blacktips on all their fins whereas Blacktip sharks have (mostly) a white anal fin. Here are a few pointers to help determining which shark is which:

Caribbean reef shark

Blacktip shark, Fig 11: Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) left and Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) right. Caribbean reef shark photo credit: Dale Williams; Blacktip reef shark photo credit: Claire Fletcher








7. What’s the size?

Sharks grow relatively slow and reach maturity late. The maximum size in some species may differ for male and females which is also true for size at maturity. Below the numbers of the most common shark species in Cayman are summarized. These life characteristics make shark populations particularly vulnerable to exploitation. The slow growth and late maturity may result in capture of a shark individual before it had the chance to reproduce. This of course impacts local shark populations negatively.

8. Protected yet still threatened in Cayman

Sharks are vulnerable to fishing and sensitive to environmental decline. Unlike most fish stocks, sharks grow slowly, mature late, have relatively few pups and long gestation periods, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. This is the reason why sharks are protected in Cayman. Although shark protection measures were put in place in 2015 the main local threat to sharks is still fishing. Sharks are still caught accidentally or as by-catch. Accidental kill together with damage to key habitats such as coral reefs, affects the food chain on which sharks are dependent and puts pressure on local shark populations. A previously exploited population of sharks can take more than 50 years to recover once they are protected. With the National Conservation Law the Cayman Islands are in a position to conserve the local shark biodiversity, and allow these feared and misunderstood animals to be a part of nature tourism.

Shark deaths reported to the DOE since Jan 2017:

Caribbean reef shark: 4

Nurse shark: 3

Blacktip shark: 2

Sting ray: 4

Eagle ray: 6

Shortfin Mako shark: 1

Shortnose sevengill shark: 1

Whitesaddled Catshark: 1

Fig 12: Dead baby Blacktip shark. Found in North Sound, Grand Cayman in June 2017. Photo Credit: Mark Tilley

9. WANTED : alive not dead!

Sharks are worth more alive than dead in Cayman. Tourist love healthy reefs and come to Cayman predominantly because of its stunning waters and see and engage with our marine life. Divers love to see healthy reefs with thriving fish communities as well as sharks. According to a report by the DOE the value of having sharks on the reef is about US$54 million per year. By contrast, catching and killing sharks was worth only US$1.6 million per year.

Fig 13 Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) swimming over reef on Grand Cayman.

10. Advanced senses and individual behaviour

Sharks can sense us long before we know a shark is near. Sharks have various senses to experience their environment. Two senses the lateral line sensory system and the electronic sensory system (Ampullae of Lorenzini) help sharks to detect other animals, including humans, in their surroundings. The lateral line runs along the length of the body on either flank. It detects movements and vibrations through even minute pressure waves (e.g. generated by prey). The electronic sensory system is unique to sharks. The Ampullae of Lorenzini are a network of fine electro receptors and allow sharks to detect electrical signals, temperature gradients and electrical fields present in all animals through the pores in their skin. This way sharks are able to pick up the heartbeat and movements of other animals and divers from a far. So a shark knows that there are divers around even before it comes close to show itself. Since sharks are generally rather shy they will quickly swim away or try avoid a group of divers. However, each individual is different. Some shark are inquisitive others rather shy. If a shark is inquisitive it may come close and show itself to divers in order to investigate these bubble blowing underwater “aliens”.

Fig 14: Lateral line sensory system shown on Blacktip shark (Charcharinus limbatus).




Fig: 15: Close up of shark head showing electronic sensory system – the Ampullae of Lorenzini.







Guest Writer: Johanna Kohler

Johanna Kohler is a marine biologist with research interests in shark behavior and ecology, shark reproduction and human-shark conflict mitigation. She joined the Cayman Island Dept. of Environment (DOE) as Shark Project research officer in 2016 and is also a PhD candidate at the Heriot-Watt University, Scotland. Johanna graduated from the University of Cape Town, South Africa majoring in Marine Biology and Oceanography in 2015. Before and next to her studies she gained considerable experience in research and fieldwork. She has worked with sharks alongside leading South African Shark Researchers at the Two Oceans Aquarium, White Shark Africa, the South African Shark Conservancy and Shark Spotters. As part of the DOE Shark Project research team, Johanna continues to follow her passion to study sharks in order to protect these misunderstood animals. In 2016 she was involved in the launch of the Sharklogger Programme a citizen science programme that involves a network of divers that logs shark sightings in Cayman. She also spearheaded the SharKY Fest in June 2016. Follow her work on Instagram: johannakohler. For more information on the Sharklogger programme email and follow the “Sharks & Cetaceans: the Cayman Islands” Facebook page.







Spotted: Shark Conservation in Action

In 2009, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), in partnership with Marine Conservation International (MCI), began studying Cayman’s sharks.  This initiative was originally sponsored by a UK Darwin Plus grant and by CayBrew’s, Whitetip Fund.  The Darwin Plus project has recently concluded and subsequently, since the beginning of the year, the project is now fully supported locally by CayBrew’s Whitetip Fund and continues to focus on improving shark research and conservation efforts in Cayman.

In recent developments and in part due to the hard work and efforts of both DOE and MCI, sharks and rays were included as totally protected species in the December 2013, National Conservation Law the provisions of that law effectively make the waters of the Cayman Islands a shark and ray sanctuary, since April 2015.  Shark research continues in order to monitor Cayman’s shark populations.  The research helps to better understand our sharks and the threats they face which results in better informed management decisions and ultimately more effective protection and conservation.  Providing a safe haven is key to effective conservation for these long lived, slow reproducing, vulnerable species.  As part of the ongoing research effort the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) aims to collect data to gain a better understanding of our shark populations.  By gathering data on our shark population the DOE is able to monitor their behavior such as movement patterns, home ranges, seasonality, as well as shark population numbers and recruitment in Cayman.  This step towards shark conservation with a commitment to protecting and studying these vulnerable species may result in encouraging other countries to establish their own sharks and rays sanctuary.  Currently, more than 5% of the world’s oceans is now protected.  There has been a positive momentum of countries making a commitment to marine protected areas and hopefully more underway.  But there is still a vast amount that still stands to be protected.

Over the years, a great stride has been made across the globe increasing the protection of sharks.  Legislation and designated marine protected areas that govern the protection of sharks and rays have been established across the globe in response to our oceans losing sharks at an exponential rate in comparison to their ability to replenish their populations.  Sharks take a significant amount of time to reproduce and mature.  Some species, produce only a few pups at a time.  In the unfortunate instance, whereby, a juvenile shark is killed before it has had a chance to reproduce it lessens their ability to replenish shark populations.  Shark sanctuaries provide a safe haven.   An increase in the coverage of marine protected areas may result in better chances for sharks having an opportunity to repopulate without being in danger of harm.   The continual removal of sharks on a global scale impacts the health of our oceans.  As sharks become more scarce therein lies the breakdown.  Sharks are apex predators, at the top of the food chain and therefore play an integral role in maintaining balance in our marine ecosystems.  This ensures thriving fisheries and healthy reefs.  Therefore, a healthy population of sharks is fundamental to a healthy ecosystem.  Sharks are worth more alive than dead.  The protection and preservation of sharks is beneficial to our environment and socio-economics now and in the future.

Sharks In Focus

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) swimming over reef on Grand Cayman. Photo Credit: Johanna Kohler

The Cayman Islands is surrounded by vibrant coral reefs and the stunning Caribbean Sea. Yet, there is not a great abundance of sharks seen in our waters as one would expect.  Evidently, decades ago there was a significantly larger population of sharks.  With shark protection measures in place now, the goal of DOE’s shark project is to better understand local shark populations for improved management and conservation.  The focus of the research work is on determining the relative abundance of sharks inhabiting the waters between our three islands, their hotspots and home ranges, their interaction within their habitat and how they utilize it, species of sharks that migrate through our waters, where they go and how long they stay, as well as those that may reside here.  The research project has four methods to comprehensively collect data to study their behaviors and patterns.  The methods used are: tagging with an acoustic transmitter, BRUV (baited remote underwater video) surveys, photo identification of individual sharks and shark sighting logging.  Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.  However, as a collective whole each method compliments one another, and fills in the gaps.

Acoustic receiver. Johanna Kohler. Redeployment and activity check. During data download of the acoustic receiver array on all three Islands. Dept of Environment.

Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) on BRUV (baited underwater video survey or camera trap) footage. Nurse sharks are capable to bend and twist themselves to reach their prey (conch, lobster) which may hid in crevices. They have sandpaper like teeth and strong jaws to crush their prey’s outer shell and suck out the flesh. Nurse sharks play with the bait bag and twists in any direction, even lies on its back, to try suck the bait pieces out of the mash bag.

An efficient method to study and monitor sharks within our waters is tagging sharks with an acoustic transmitter.  The electronic transmitter sends unique pings which are received by acoustic receiver listening stations, and record when a tagged shark passes a receiver.   Many receivers are stationed in an array around each of our islands to give a broad range of in water coverage to track their movement.  Additionally, by quantifying the ratio of tagged versus untagged sharks researchers can estimate shark population numbers.  Therefore, reports of tagged sharks from the public shark sighting reports are important data and heavily relied on when estimating shark numbers with this method.  Attempting to determine stats and estimates of shark populations is super complex as there is a multitude of variables and factors that come into play.  Another method used are BRUV (baited remote underwater video) surveys which are done twice a year.  Essentially, it is a camera trap underwater.  Go Pros are stationed at 13 locations in Grand Cayman and 8 in Little Cayman.  This particular method serves to show a comparison of the abundance and species of sharks in various locations. An added bonus, it helps with monitoring sharks already tagged and logging the sightings of untagged sharks as well as their species specific behavior and the footage can be used for photo identification of individual sharks.  The photo identification (photo ID) compares images of individual sharks collected by BRUVs and divers to identify individuals.  This will help in estimating populations estimates, home ranges of individuals and their movement patterns across islands.  Lastly, shark logging, whereby divers report their entire dive logs including dives with or without shark sightings is an important component of the research effort.  Volunteers are fundamental to this aspect of the project.  A network of local divers and dive companies are participating in the sharklogger program which was launched 1.5 years ago.  The dive information such as date, time, depth, dive location, and information on shark sightings such as species of shark, tagged or untagged is collected by the individual divers in the program.  The network extends over all three islands and it encourages the collaboration and participation amongst private divers and local dive companies.  The various methods used for this project work from different angles complimentary to one another in collecting the pertinent data.

Dive In To Help Sharks

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Grand Cayman. Name: Smudge/Scarlet, female

Report a shark sighting in Cayman.  Have you seen a shark lately? Help DOE to build a database on the whereabouts of our sharks. Email your shark sighting to the DOE ( or post on the Shark and Cetaceans: the Cayman Islands Facebook page ( to get added to the DOE database.  Let the research team know if the shark had a dorsal fin tag.

Become a Sharklogger. Recreational divers, and local dive companies are encouraged to join the Sharklogger program. The dive information helps the research team to monitor the movement patterns and behavior of sharks in Cayman. For more information email:

Sponsor An Acoustic Transmitter

Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) on Grand Cayman. Male. Hook in Jaw. Stainless steal hooks will rust out and the wound will heal relatively quickly. In case of an accidental catch ,it’s good practice for fishermen to cut the line as close to the hook as comfortable for the fishermen or even cut the hook to minimize the trauma on the shark.

Dorsal fin tag on Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) showing DOE tag number. This allows divers to report tagged sharks to the DOE which helps to establish the tagged vs non tagged population ratio needed for analysis. Dr Mauvis Gore. Marine Conservation International and Dept. of Environment.

The DOE/MCI shark research relies on independent funding and support. The research team is planning on tagging more sharks with acoustic transmitters within the next 3 years. Corporations and other organizations can play a role in helping the DOE to better understand sharks.  Adopt a shark! Corporations can make a donation to purchase an acoustic transmitter or receiver and in return for their commitment to help sharks, they can name the shark that is tagged.  For further details and information on donation packages please contact:


Johanna Kohler

Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE)

Photo Credits

Johanna Kohler


Ghost Nets: Silent Killers of the Ocean

“My work in this underwater photography performance realm is to use my body and my movements as a human canvas for these issues.  Because quite simply, ocean conservation is a human issue.” -Christine Ren

Christine Ren, is embarking on a new environmental campaign to raise awareness about “Ghost Nets” silent killers of the ocean.  Ren is combining her background in dance with underwater photography once again. Her aim is to draw attention to the serious threat fishing nets and lines impose on marine life.  The imagery is powerful, as it illustrates the vulnerability of marine life and the plight they face.  Ren’s thought provoking photographs, turns that tables by bringing into focus what it would be like if a human being endured the same struggle and pain marine life undergo when they become tangled in nets or ingest them.  By reversing the situation, we can’t help, but feel empathy. We cannot ignore the serious nature of the issue and harm caused by derelict fishing gear floating around in the ocean.  The ballerinas are wrapped in bandages representative of the fact that we are bound and interconnected to all life that resides on this planet.  Therefore, this issue is just as much a human issue as it is for marine life and there is suffering all around.  The series of photos captures various scenarios depicting the distress and agony marine life encounter when they become tangled in fishing nets.  Emphasizing the horror of being trapped underwater in a net.  The delicate ballet poises are symbolic of the vulnerability and fragility of marine life and highlights their poignant battle to free themselves.  Overall, the composition of the photos in this awareness campaign is carefully constructed such that, as human beings we can resonate with the  fear, struggle, pain, and distress that comes from the thought or feeling of being trapped underwater.




Marine life face a plethora of threats from climate change to poaching.  While, not a new threat to marine life, abandoned fishing nets and lines is becoming an increasing problem.  As it stands, fishing nets and lines can last up to 400 years in the ocean — adding to the existing issue of ocean pollution.  Turtles, seals, dolphins, whales and sharks have been victims to being entangled in abandoned nets or lines and have often died as a result.  In some instances, divers have been able to rescue them.  There has also been cases whereby turtles, sharks and other marine life have been seen swimming with fishing lines tangled around them as they were unable to free themselves completely.  As consumers, we have the ability to do our part in helping resolve this issue.  We can help ensure that incentives for economic solutions related to ghost nets are put in place.  There are companies conscientious of this environmental issue, and committed to helping create a solution to help reduce the environmental impact of derelict fishing nets, lines and gear that have been lost or recklessly discarded into the ocean.  Net buyback programs have been created and work effectively.  There are companies that offer incentives such as training and paying fisherman to reclaim lost fishing gear, nets and lines.  The encouragement of the removal of these items from the ocean can help alleviate the amount of pollution in our oceans.  Reclaimed fishing gear can then be regenerated into new materials to create new products.  Specifically, the nylon waste from ghost nets can be utilized to create products ranging from swimwear to skateboards, or just about anything.  As advocates for the ocean, we can do our part in assisting with removing plastic and discarded fishing gear when we come across it in the ocean.  We are stronger as a unified network, working together for the betterment of the ocean and marine life.


Behind The Scenes

Take The Challenge

Commit to a 30 day challenge to use hashtag #SilentKillers, and spread the word through social media about businesses and initiatives that are helping to turn reclaimed ghost nets into sustainable products. “Because together, we can champion ocean heroes. And become them ourselves.” – Christine Ren



Art direction, modeling & editing: Christine Ren (

Photography: Jose G. Cano (

Hair & MUA: : Kungy Gay Cano

Additional models: : Emma Porteus, Moana Mink

BTS footage: Brad Watt

Assistant: Caroline Trembath