Citizen science provides valuable data to evaluate elasmobranch diversity and trends throughout the French Polynesia’s shark sanctuary
Observers of the Polynesian Shark Observatory (ORP), a citizen science network organized mainly through the Polynesian dive centers, collected an unprecedented amount of data from more than 13,916 dives spanning 43% of the islands of French Polynesia between July 8, 2011, and April 11, 2018. The objective for this type of data collection, which is not accessible within the standard research context, was to provide a unique dataset, and the opportunity to explore the specific diversity, distribution, seasonality and abundance of many elasmobranch species spread out throughout the territory of French Polynesia. Since the data are based on random citizen observations, the spatial distribution was biased toward the most frequented sites and islands where scuba diving is most developed. Overall, the increase in observed abundance of rays and sharks observed in French Polynesia, and the three most sampled islands as well as the high specific diversity recorded for the region, provide first evidence on the effectiveness of the French Polynesia’s Shark Sanctuary, established in 2006. These data, collected randomly by the volunteers, also provide insights into potential movement patterns and site fidelity of some of the more commonly observed species. While no final conclusions can be drawn, it is clear that the network of volunteers that regularly contributes information to the Polynesian Shark Observatory plays a very important role in the delivery of much needed data for conservation and management action, as well as providing perspectives for new directions in research on sharks and rays in French Polynesia.