Public get their teeth into shark egg case monitoring project
More than 75,000 shark egg cases have been collected from British beaches by volunteers taking part in a major citizens' science conservation project.
The Great Eggcase Hunt is organised by the Shark Trust charity which has introduced a new smartphone app to assist the search.
Since the project started in 2003, participants have helped experts record 13 species of shark, skate and ray egg cases found around the British coast.
A shark egg case, also known as a "mermaid's purse", is a tough leathery pouch that protects the developing embryo. Once hatched, the empty egg cases are often washed up on beaches.
Egg cases of different species vary in size and shape, making it possible to identify the fish they belong to.
Shark Trust conservation officer Cat Cordon said: "The Great Eggcase Hunt has received an overwhelming response from the public and thanks to our supporters we now have an extensive and ever expanding database of egg case records, which continue to provide us with crucial information on the distribution of shark, skate and ray species."
Sharks are essential to ocean ecosystems but their numbers are dwindling, the charity says.
At least 30 species of shark are found close to UK coastlines, with many more in deeper waters.
More than half of these are categorised as threatened or near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List" of endangered species.
The Shark Trust is trying to identify the location of shark "nurseries" - deep ocean spawning grounds about which little is known.
Paul Cox, the charity's managing director, said: "You don't need to be a scientist to be a citizen scientist - it's easy to record findings, pictures and locations on the project website or on the new smartphone app. It is the combined efforts of scientists, conservationists and the public that is making the difference, encouraging positive change one step at a time."
More information about the Great Eggcase Hunt can be found at www.eggcase.org.