Data-Driven Conservation

What if we could use cutting-edge technology to monitor the recovery of threatened marine species in an efficient, standardized and non-invasive fashion?

Beneath the Waves, a 501(c)(3) charity, has partnered with the BVI Art Reef to conduct the first of its kind assessment of shark and other marine life population recovery using artificial reefs and "environmental DNA," or eDNA. 

What is Environmental DNA?

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, refers to DNA gathered from a variety of natural surroundings, including seawater, soil and air.
In contrast to DNA samples taken from an individual organism, eDNA lacks obvious signs of the biological source material -- making it an efficient, straightforward, non-invasive, and standardized approach to monitor habitats.

5 Ways eDNA Revolutionizes Conservation Biology

It's easy and inexpensive to collect and analyze samples. Using cost-efficient DNA sequencing technology, researchers can detect the presence, absence and relative abundance of organisms in a given area. When studying threatened species whose monitoring is challenging and expensive, eDNA offers tremendous value.

It's fairly real-time. eDNA has short degradation times in contemporary ecosystems, meaning that the detection of candidate species offers a short-term signal for species’ presence.

It's noninvasive. eDNA is well-suited for monitoring sharks and other large predators (i.e. grouper) on the BVI Artificial Reef program because we can noninvasively test whether the artificial reef serves as a recruitment beacon over time.

It enables standardization. eDNA enables researchers to establish a standardized sampling protocol (i.e. monthly), including samples taken before the sinking and from a nearby 'control' site, to track changes in the fish community.

It democratizes marine research. Because eDNA requires little additional scientific training compared to other methods, it's far easier to sustain field data collection over the long term.

Considering these advantages, it's no wonder that researchers are increasingly testing eDNA approaches to monitoring marine populations like whale sharks, sawfish and more.

eDNA in the News

Environmental DNA is an exciting emerging technology in conservationists' toolkits.

In the first few weeks of 2017 alone, eDNA has already enabled a variety of breakthroughs and discoveries:

  • NPR: Can New DNA Science Help Keep Our Fish Safe?
  • ScienceDaily: DNA analysis of seawater detects 80% of fish species in just one day
  • New Scientist: Rare ‘baby dragons’ discovered in five new caves thanks to DNA
  • Phys.org: DNA reveals seasonally shifting populations in an iconic Snowdonia lake

Phase 1: eDNA Research Objectives

  1. Test whether the artificial reef attracts and restores populations of threatened marine predators over time. If so, how long does this process take?
  2. Establish a community-based research program that activates BVI youth and engages the diver community to help collect water samples from the reef for analysis.

Who Is Beneath the Waves?


Beneath the Waves is a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization working to protect our oceans. Motivated by its mission – to conserve sharks and the habitats they occupy – they conduct cutting-edge scientific research and use their findings to inform environmental policy and educate the public.

The sinking of the YO-44 and the creation of the artificial reef will provide Beneath the Waves with an unprecedented opportunity to monitor the potential restoration and subsequent occurrence and survival of marine species in the area.

With this project, the research team hopes to add to the handful of studies that have successfully applied the eDNA method to sharks and their relatives. Beneath the Waves looks forward to conducting future projects focused on predator research and serving as a steward of science on this reef.


Dr. Austin Gallagher

Founder & CEO

Meet Dr. Austin Gallagher

Dr. Austin Gallagher is a biologist and entrepreneur. He is the Founder and CEO of Beneath the Waves, a non-profit organization focusing on shark and ocean conservation. His research is focused on advancing our knowledge of the biology and ecology of some of the largest and most threatened predators in the natural world, with a particular focus on large sharks. His work has been published in leading scientific journals and has paved the way for unique discoveries and conservation outcomes.

In 2016 he was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Science and he is the first ever American marine biologist to grace the list. He received a BA from Loyola University in Maryland, a Master’s from Northeastern University, and a PhD from the University of Miami.

How Does eDNA Research Work?