Francesco Ferretti Ph.D.

Virginia Tech


My research in the Indian Ocean Region spans from macro-ecology to applied management and conservation.

I am a quantitative ecologist specialized in research synthesis interested in characterizing the history of human impact in the ocean, understanding how this impact has altered marine ecosystems, and developing solutions for a sustainable use of marine resources. I address this quest by combining historical research, fisheries science, ecology, statistical modeling, and data science.

Specifically, my research focuses on the dynamics from single species to whole ecosystems, and revolves around three main scientific approaches: inferring ecological processes from limited and disparate data; filling the data gap characterizing many ecological systems by exploiting unconventional sources of information; and using data science methods as well as new technology to address pressing ecological issues and develop ocean solutions.

Within the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, I am developing research for understanding regional and global patterns of fishing and how they interact with large pelagic fish and sharks. I am also researching the ecological, management and conservation role of large Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). To address these questions I develop innovative systems to detect and combat illegal fishing in remote large MPAs. Moreover, I characterize the life histories and ecology of sharks and other large marine predators while investigating on the full ecosystem consequences of removing these animals from our oceans.

The ocean is humankind's biggest, most precious and least known asset. The more we know how it works, the longer we exist on earth.

Francesco Ferretti


2019 Present
Assistant Professor of Fisheries Management and Conservation, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech
2003 Present
Member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Shark Specialist Group
2016 2019
Research Associate, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University
2011 2016
Postdoctoral Fellow, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University
2011 2011
Postdoctoral Fellow, Dalhousie University
2004 2010
Ph.D. Student, Dalhousie University

My Projects

  • Species Distribution and Ecology
    The Ecology and Ecosystem Roles of Reef Sharks in the Indian Ocean MPA
  • Species Distribution and Ecology
    The Importance of the Chagos Archipelago for Pelagic Predators in the Indian Ocean

Other interests

I am interested in Marine Conservation, Quantitative Ecology, Data Science, Ecoinformatics, Fisheries Science and Sharks.

I have a strong interest in reconstructing baselines and understanding the ecosystem consequences of depleting global shark populations. I have designed and led the Shark Baselines Project, a global initiative with the objective of reconstructing historical abundance and composition of shark communities in the ocean before human impact. 


This research highlighted that the lack of data on species abundance and distribution is one of the biggest hurdles of shark conservation. Hence, I am always seeking to fill this data gap by searching for untapped sources of information and reconstructing regional and global datasets of shark abundance proxies from unstructured information. I have created sharkPulse, an interdisciplinary global crowdsourcing initiative, involving citizen scientists, data, computer and ecological scientists, aiming to collect image-based sightings of sharks from all over the world. 


I am particularly interested in the use of new technologies for combatting illegal fishing. Currently, I am working on developing anti-poaching satellite and radio-tagging based technologies and designing monitoring systems for large MPAs using swarms of autonomous intelligent drones.


In partnership with the Global Fishing Watch, I am also working on understanding patterns of high-seas fishing effort across the globe and how global fishing fleets interact with large pelagic fish and sharks. This work has applications on informing marine spatial planning and fisheries management for areas outside national jurisdictions.


Finally, I am interested in reconstructing population and ecosystem baselines by using historical and integrative ecological approaches. Currently, I am combining archival digging, literature analyses, forensic investigations on museum collections, and statistical models to characterize the identity and structure of extinct Mediterranean sawfish and neighboring Atlantic populations.

My Publications

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