Project Leader

Muhammad Ichsan

Muhammad Ichsan

Who I am

I was born in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, to West Sumatran parents, a people known as traders, thinkers and the largest matrilineal society in the world. I grew up in the city and rarely connected with the ocean. It wasn’t until I studied marine science that I realised the beauty of the ocean and the importance of marine resources, and since then there has been no looking back. My love for and interest in the ocean are the primary drivers of my study and work, while contributing to healthy shark populations and the welfare of fishers is my personal life goal. I am a PhD student at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia and am studying the biology, ecology and population genetics of wedgefish. Before coming to Australia as a student, I established a small local NGO focusing on marine conservation. This NGO aims to protect endangered animals and ecosystems, improve livelihoods in coastal communities and spread awareness of the need for sustainable oceans.

Where I work

I work at several shark-fishing hotspots in Indonesia, mainly in the provinces of Aceh, West Nusa Tenggara and North Maluku. On one survey, I visited the province of West Kalimantan on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia, where there are several centres for fisheries that target demersal rays. Fishing for these species takes place near river mouths along the coast of West Kalimantan, where the ecosystem is highly suitable for large demersal rays. The rays caught are landed at private riverside landing sites that are owned by local fishing companies.

As the largest shark- and ray-fishing nation in the world, Indonesia supports fisheries that target sharks, but this fishery is different in that it targets only the large demersal rays that are common in river mouths and the coastal areas of Borneo. Most of the shark fisheries in Indonesia target pelagic species such as requiem and hammerhead sharks. Large rays are usually taken as bycatch by fisheries that capture a large variety of marine resources using bottom gill nets. Wedgefish and giant guitarfish are considered a prize catch.

In contrast to the fisheries of many well-known shark- and ray-fishing sites such as Tanjung Luar, Northern Java and Aceh, the West Kalimantan demersal ray fishery has been quite poorly studied. After reviewing the literature and from my own observations in the field, I realised the magnitude of this fishery and the importance of managing it, starting by understanding basic biological aspects of the critically endangered wedgefish that are its main catch.

What I do

Throughout my years of working on sharks and rays, I have been involved in many projects that required me to participate in research, awareness programmes and liaising with government departments. My research started with the ecology of reef sharks and manta rays, shark fisheries, the shark trade and its supply chain, and social science. As I start my PhD, I am challenging myself to improve my knowledge and leave my comfort zone. My PhD work consists of using different methods to study primarily biological aspects of wedgefish – reproduction, diet and population genetics – but also the negative effects of fisheries on the species. A typical day in the field begins with looking for wedgefish at a local fish-landing site and collecting samples to take back to the lab for analysis. Of all the research I do, analysing data and writing reports and scientific publications are my favourite tasks. They are essential elements, and the parts of our study that provide findings and new knowledge. Above all else, sharing new knowledge and increasing awareness of shark and ray conservation are my true passions. Other than saving sharks and rays, my life goals are to encourage and create opportunities for young marine scientists. I spend a great deal of time discussing many non-technical subjects to improve the research and the well-being of anyone working, or thinking of working, in this field. I believe the collective effort will show a more significant impact, and everyone deserves the same opportunities to pursue their dream.

My project

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