(c)Aurélien Guay

Interview with Matthieu Lapinski, ecologist and president of the Ailerons Association

in Environement/Environment

From June to December 2020, we supported in two formats, the Ailerons association. The first, and which made it possible to launch the partnership, was the scientific expedition they led off Corsica. The goal of this week-long trip? Observe, understand, and place tags on Mobula mobula rays. Obviously, within the Click-Dive team, when Benoit Verdeille, one of the members of Ailerons, contacted us, we immediately agreed to provide them with eco-friendly soaps and sunscreens from our brand LE SAVON DES PLONGEURS. .

Then, we decided to support them for 6 months, by giving them 1% of our turnover.

Meeting with Matthieu Lapinski, president of the Ailerons Association and ecological engineer.

Hello and thank you for agreeing to answer our questions. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers.

(c)Aurélien Guay
Hello, my name is Matthieu Lapinski, I’m an environmental engineer at Seaboost and I’ve been president of the AILERONS Association for almost 10 years. I studied marine biology and then ecological engineering at the Faculty of Sciences of Montpellier through the realization of a Bachelor’s degree and then following the integration of the master IEGB (Engineering in Ecology and Biodiversity Management).

What is your current project? What are your vision and your values?

Concerning the association Ailerons, the projects and dynamics are multiples and collectives. It is rare that I focus alone on a single project for an extended period of time. I am fortunate enough to be able to rely on a multidisciplinary team of volunteers, each one more motivated than the other. 
This being said, in terms of planning and the finalization of deliverables, we are working a lot at the end of this year on the subject of clarifying the regulations on sharks and rays in the French Mediterranean as well as on the valorization of data from the participatory marine science programs (citizen data collection) that we are carrying out.
(c)Matthieu Lapinski

From which statement did you leave? How did you come up with the idea?

Regarding regulation, we started by the observation that with each controversial publication of a rare capture, particularly on social networks, no one ever agreed. Unsurprisingly, the prophecies and anti-fishing were torn apart, but more surprisingly, the protection associations were rarely aligned with a common discourse. After digging deeper, we realized that these regulations were also unclear for many fishermen who (sometimes) wanted to do well. In short, we needed to see more clearly internally, especially since the specificities of the Mediterranean are numerous, starting with a recent (2016) International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List specific to our waters and international conventions (Barcelona) and management bodies (GFCM) that are just as specific.
(c)Matthieu Lapinski
As far as participatory science is concerned, although there are many tools and networks of observers (Fish Watch Forum, Doris, ObsenMER, Polaris, INPN, VigieMer…) and motivated associations (APECS, Corsica Mediterranean Research Group, FFESSM), it must be noted that the latter are rarely oriented towards the acquisition of data on elasmobranch species in the French Mediterranean or their enhancement (whether for lack of time or means). However, participatory sciences (and citizens) clearly have a role to play in improving knowledge and the management of rare and endangered species that we are often trying to study today by fishing the last individuals on our coasts.

How far along is this project?

Concretely, the first stage (2 and a half years) of the regulatory project is being finalized. The work on participatory sciences and elasmobranches is in full development and will be part of our priority actions in 2021.

What are the first results, the first returns, the first successes?

After multiple returns between the State services (DREAL, DIRM in particular), the representative bodies of fishing committees or the Schneider law firm which accompanies us on this complex topic, we are pleased to announce the publication of a first guide of the species which are prohibited to fish in the French Mediterranean Sea. It includes 19 species including 14 species of sharks and 5 species of rays. Out of the 80 species of elasmobranchs that populate the Mediterranean, this remains very little when we know that more than 50% of them are threatened. However, we have managed to assert the prohibition of exploitation of these species by studying complex texts. This project is coming to an end, but in a way, it is only the beginning. It must now be widely disseminated to the State, to fishermen and also to consumers.
Concerning participatory sciences, the first successes have been the constructive exchanges with the whole associative sphere, which agrees that it is urgent to better collect and valorise all together these data. We have started to sign partnership agreements between associations and help some of them to move forward. Tools have been created such as an online form formatted at the request of the State according to the prerogatives of the National Inventory of Natural Heritage. An interactive map of citizen observations is now available on our website. Species sheets to help identify citizen observations are being edited and some are already finalized such as the blue shark or the white shark. We also carry the MECO international network as France’s representative for the Mediterranean and a specific facebook group has been created for this purpose “Sharks and Rays of the French Mediterranean”.

Can we see concretely what it looks like? How can we access what you offer? What are the prospects?

The website of the AILERONS association has greatly evolved in 2020 and a lot of information is available and will be added in early 2021 starting with a species comparator for example. It’s quite simple but who would know how to identify the differences between an early shark and an emissole today? A soft ray and a starry ray? While specifying the conservation stakes and possible associated regulations? We needed specific tools for participatory science applied to elasmobranchs in the French Mediterranean, adapted to divers but also to citizens, fishermen or managers of protected areas. Not everything is finalized but we are happy to see this project move forward. The prospects are immense because we believe that, with the support of citizens, quality participatory science could in the short term complement conventional science and meet European objectives such as monitoring and achieving good ecological status of the Marine Strategic Framework Directive.

What expert advice would you have to share with the Click-Dive community?

I would advise all lovers of the Mediterranean Sea to inform themselves about the state of extreme urgency affecting elasmobranchs in terms of conservation. It is not for nothing that we hardly see any more of them when diving. Despite an apparent diversity of nearly 80 species, the IUCN and WWF agree to speak of a dead zone for elasmobranchs in the Mediterranean, particularly along the French coast.

Thanks again for this interview, a word for the end?

The AILERONS Association and other associations working to protect and improve knowledge of cartilaginous fishes are counting on you to share your data. It is valuable, especially if it is used in a biostatistical and mapping process. Complex models exist to handle this type of data. We will continue to look for fundings to make them run on verified and qualitative data. We are counting on you. And if you know of a spot where you regularly (or seasonally) observe these species, then share it because it may be the last one. We had the example recently in Corsica where the sea angel that was thought to be extinct had been “rediscovered” thanks to enthusiasts like you.
(c)Matthieu Lapinski

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