AUGUST 8, 2016
Madeline Marens ’12 knew at the age of 5 that she wanted to be a marine biologist – a dream she never outgrew. She majored in marine biology and achieved her goal, landing a job as an aquarist at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
“I really enjoy the aquarium setting and feel like I can be engaged in shark conservation initiatives there,” she said. “The aquarium serves as an instrumental public agency to inspire and commit to the conservation of the environment. I enjoy the hands-on aspect of it.”
This summer, Marens, a UNCW marine biology graduate student, had the opportunity to extend her conservation efforts. She joined OCEARCH, a recognized global leader in shark research, and other scientists representing 11 institutions in a shark expedition off Wrightsville Beach. Marens gathered biological samples for analysis and conducted ultrasounds from sharks captured during the week-long expedition. Researchers plan to track the sharks to determine their habitats including breeding, gestation and pupping grounds.
Marens is conducting her own research on sand tiger sharks, which are listed as threatened under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, a comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.
“Sand tiger sharks are slow-growing and late to mature, making it harder for the population to rebound,” Marens said. “As top predators in the ocean food chain, sand tiger sharks and all sharks are an important species to protect for the health of the ocean.”
By tagging mature female sand tiger sharks with acoustic transmitters, Marens will learn more about how these animals use local habitats along the coast. Receivers have been deployed in areas where sharks congregate, she said. Tracking them can help identify essential fish habitats and how much time they are spending in North Carolina waters. This is the first year of collecting data for the study.
“Identifying critical reproductive habitats is important for conservation management purposes and to promote breeding success,” she said. “Sand tiger sharks are shallow water and coastal-dwelling species. They are really cool to encounter on dives at popular wreck sites, but being a coastal species makes them vulnerable to coastal human impacts, such as overfishing and habitat loss.”
Marens credits several UNCW professors – Fred Scharf, Tom Lankford, Ann Pabst and Marcel Van Tuinen – for her passion for conservation.
“The education I received as an undergrad and now as a graduate student has helped me achieve the career I dreamed of as a child,” she said.