SARASOTA -- Southwest Florida residents can get plenty excited about Discovery Channel's famed Shark Week programming this month.
Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium conducted research on Cuban sharks and will present the findings on Tuesday's nonfiction program "Tiburon: The Sharks of Cuba."
Shark Week features fictional and nonfiction shark-themed shows every night through one week each month.
Drs. Robert Hueter, Kim Ritchie and Dave Vaughan, senior biologist Jack Morris and associate researcher John Tyminski from Mote participated in the expedition with two representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. nonprofit that works for environmental preservation.
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American and Cuban scientists placed satellite transmitters on sharks in Cuban waters for the first time and conducted the first coral transplant on a reef in Cuba, according to a Mote release. The work began in February, and the transmitters generated data in the months following.
The Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research, the University of Havana, the National Center for Protected Areas and the Ministry of Food's Office of Fisheries were the organizations from Cuba involved in the project.
The research includes gathering more information about where and how deep sharks travel in the ocean. Researchers managed to place a transmitter on a rare longfin mako shark to track its movements and patterns, among other accomplishments.
Environmental research and conservation is important for Florida's top industry, tourism. In particular, "ecotourism," or traveling
with a focus on sustainability, minimizing impact and viewing wildlife in natural areas, is especially affected by dwindling sea and land animal populations.
Taryn Daley is a travel adviser for Admiral Travel, an agency specializing in safaris and other adventure-based travel focused on nature. She said tourism and conservation go hand-in-hand and help to create a healthy ecosystem for all to enjoy.
"People who are looking for tropical and resort vacations are looking for things like whale watching, scuba diving and snorkeling," Daley said. "It's just such a huge part of the tourism market."
And although tourists probably don't want to get close to sharks during a scuba journey, shark-population peril can still affect the rest of the underwater viewing experience.
"If one species gets drastically affected, it can affect everything around it," Daley said. "Sharks are a very important part of the ecosystem as everything else is."
Cuba was chosen for Mote's shark research because of its "near-pristine ecosystems and wealth of unsolved scientific mysteries," the release said.
Encouraging wildlife and habitat conservation is often only a matter of experience, Daley said.
Traveling, experiencing environments firsthand and viewing wildlife in the natural environment is "the best education there is," she said.
Michael Distler, destination specialist for Africa at Admiral Travel, said habitats and population numbers can have a significant impact on a region's economic environment.
"With an abundance of spectacular coastal destinations and vast oceans, the health of an underwater ecosystem is paramount to ensuring a region remains competitive within the tourism market," Distler said.
Mote scientists began traveling to Cuba more than 10 years ago to collaborate on research based in the Gulf of Mexico. Because Mote is an independent nonprofit, it was not subject to as many Cuban travel restrictions as other U.S. entities.
"Trustful collaboration is the way to go if we want to preserve our shared resources," said Cuban partner Jorge Angulo Valdes, director of conservation at the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research, in the Mote release. "This expedition showed how much we can accomplish together."
Shark populations have dwindled in the past 40 years, according to Mote, and the research conducted between U.S. and Cuban partners is building knowledge to help restore shark numbers worldwide.
"Across the Gulf of Mexico region, our long-term aim is that improved international cooperation, science, and management and the exchange of expertise will lead to the recovery and long term health of shark populations," Daniel Whittle, Cuba Program director for EDF said. "Sharks have been around for 400 million years. We don't want them to disappear on our watch."
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.