India is the world’s second-largest fishing nation. But without sufficient information about how the more than 120 species of sharks and rays are distributed around the country, the most effective management will always be elusive. Imran wants to understand where sharks and rays live along the coast of Visakhapatnam. He also wants to understand what fishing gear is used and how fisheries overlap with sharks and rays. This can all open a dialogue between fishers (more than 5,000 vessels operate in one of India’s largest fishing fleets) and scientists about the conservation and management of threatened species.
Since I grew up in the landlocked hills and mountains of the eastern Himalayas in India, people often ask me how I ended up studying marine and aquatic systems. With advances in technology and communication, the world has become a ‘global village’ where learning about – and dreaming to become – anything is possible. After watching documentaries and reading articles, I became awestruck by the vastness of the oceans and the magnificence of the animals that inhabit them. Inspired by ocean scientists and conservationists, I started moving towards becoming a marine researcher, one step at a time. Currently,...
The primary objective of this project is to understand what governs the distribution of different shark and ray species in Indian waters and how the risk of being caught – intentionally or by accident – in different types of fishing gear may vary.
Sharks and rays are crucial components of the marine ecosystem. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most threatened species on the planet, with their numbers declining rapidly in Indian waters. Although there have been unanimous calls to conserve these species, there has been little action, mostly because we know so little about them. Conserving these species requires understanding both their habitat requirements and the risk they face of getting caught in fisheries.
With records of more than 120 shark and ray species, of which more than 30 are known to be caught regularly in fisheries, India is the second-largest shark-fishing nation in the world. Yet little is known about how different species are distributed around the country. There is growing concern about their rapidly declining numbers and an awareness of the need to understand their habitat requirements to help conserve them. Unfortunately, we lack this information even from relatively well-studied areas like Malvan on the west coast, in the state of Maharashtra. Around India, sharks and rays have been regarded only as targets for fisheries and so our knowledge of them goes no further than catch rates and annual catch trends. Research at Malvan has focused on understanding the seasonal distribution of species like common blacktip and scalloped hammerhead sharks and also on delineating potential nursery grounds by interviewing fishers. Our project will build on this knowledge and provide results that can be directly utilised by management authorities, in conjunction with local communities, to help conserve sharks and rays.
On the other side of India, Visakhapatnam hosts one of the country’s largest fishing fleets with more than 5,000 vessels, yet information is limited to catch composition and catch rates. In Visakhapatnam, this study would be the first to provide baseline information about threatened species and their habitat requirements. The port city is in the state of Andhra Pradesh and its coast is different from that of Malvan in terms of oceanographic features such as the continental shelf, productivity and seasonal changes. Therefore, while this project will help develop crucial guidelines for shark and ray conservation, it will also help generate knowledge about how habitat features may affect the distribution and ecology of shark and ray species.
The main aims of this project are:
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.