Diego Cardeñosa
2023

Diego Cardeñosa

Marine Scientist

Unmasking the shark trade

meet diego

A distinguished postdoctoral research fellow at Florida International University, Diego Cardeñosa has focused on determining the species composition of the international shark trade; the identification of supply chains at highest risk of illicit trade; and the development and implementation of rapid, portable, and inexpensive in-port DNA protocols to enhance the ability of law enforcement officers in major wildlife trade hubs in Asia, Europe, and South America to detect illicit wildlife commerce. “Sharks,” says Cardeñosa, “have been my lifelong passion. Unfortunately, they are facing a global conservation crisis.”

Unmasking the shark trade
Nominated by: John Joaquin Bohorquez TM'20
Class of 2023 Location Florida, USA

The shark fin trade is responsible for the exploitation of 100 million sharks per year, where two-thirds of the species being traded are threatened with extinction. This is also an opaque market that is difficult for outsiders to penetrate. As a result, we have essentially no information on the composition of the trade in recent decades. This is problematic because many shark species have been listed on the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 2013, and we have no idea if these listings have had the desired conservation outcome.

Through my work, I have identified some 15,000 shark fin samples from the largest markets in Southeast Asia using mini-barcoding tools that I developed. I found CITES-listed sharks were still common in the trade. When compared to very sparse reported trade, this indicates massive global trafficking of these species. My most recent work in these markets was at the core of the argument that resulted in the inclusion of a historic number of shark species in CITES during the last Conference of the Parties.

“I am committed to fight against these trends through the creation of scientific knowledge and outreach with the hope that future generations can build upon my work to keep exploring and fighting to maintain the balance in our planet.”

- Diego Cardeñosa

Locally, and through exploration, I have found that Colombia is a critical spot for threatened shark species. In the Caribbean, I founded a hidden, and previously undescribed, shark sanctuary that holds the highest shark abundances in the Great Caribbean. In the Pacific, I founded the last remaining refuge for one of the most threatened shark species in the world, a refuge that we are fighting to protect to avoid the extinction of the world’s smallest hammerhead shark. These results give me hope and drive me to continue working to generate new knowledge that can be translated into immediate policy and conservation actions to halt the widespread declines of sharks around the world.

I am committed to fight against these trends through the creation of scientific knowledge and outreach with the hope that future generations can build upon my work to keep exploring and fighting to maintain the balance in our planet.

there are 49 other visionary explorers

read about the class of 2023