With the increasing incidence of illegal fishing along the East African coast, Cyrus is determined to turn the tide for threatened mobulid ray species. He will engage with local communities and build capacity for them to identify and protect these threatened rays. He ultimately hopes to improve law enforcement (East Africa has banned the export of these vulnerable mobulids), especially where they are still exploited in local markets due to the low capacity of enforcement officials to identify which species are being traded. By working in collaboration on these issues, Cyrus hopes to aid the informed expansion of marine protected areas.
Born in Dar es Salaam and raised in Kyerwa, Tanzania, I obtained a BSc in aquaculture from the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in 2008 and an MSc and PhD in marine biology from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2011 and 2017, respectively. Immediately after completing my BSc in 2008, I officially began my academic career by joining SUA as a tutorial assistant. In 2010 I was promoted to the rank of assistant lecturer and three years later became a lecturer. For more than five years I have gained experience in teaching and researching aquatic biodiversity and conservation,...
The main objective of this project is to build the capacity of the local communities in East Africa to identify protected mobulid species and raise awareness about mobulid genetic stock structures and illegal mobulid supply chains to improve law enforcement and inform decisions about the expansion of marine protected areas.
The increasing incidence of illegal fishing in East Africa is threatening mobulids in particular. Although East African countries have banned the harvesting of threatened mobulids, they are still exploited in local markets due to the limited expertise among law enforcers to identify species. To enhance law enforcement and save endangered fish, efforts must be made to increase the expertise of law enforcement personnel and raise awareness among fishers about protected mobulids.
Mobulids have long been an important source of animal protein in East Africa. However, due to the high demand for fish protein and the high market value of their gill plates in Asian markets, they have been fished to alarmingly low levels, and their populations have declined by roughly 90% in recent years. The impact has been severe on the shortfin devil ray Mobula kuhlii and spinetail devil ray M. mobular because they can be easily caught due to their tendency to aggregate in specific areas to feed. In response, the two species have been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and efforts are being made by the East African countries to expand marine protected areas to provide sanctuary for mobulids. However, the lack of data on the genetic stock structure of the shortfin and spinetail devil rays in the region precludes these initiatives. East African countries have banned the trade in endangered mobulids and their products, but because law enforcers rely on identification techniques based on the species’ morphology, and different mobulid species have extremely similar morphologies, the protected mobulids are still traded illegally in local markets without the knowledge of the managing authorities. Moreover, in an effort to circumvent the law, fishers and fish vendors have started to trade tissue of the protected mobulids in the form of processed products such as flesh, liver oil and gill plates. This is because these products lack the key diagnostic features needed to be quickly identified by law enforcers. There is thus a need to use DNA barcoding to expose illicit mobulid supply chains in East Africa so that they can be counteracted and the pressure on the mobulids reduced. It is also necessary to improve law enforcement by building the capacity of officials to identify protected mobulid species.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.