Ali is collaborating with researchers across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to develop support tools for guitarfish conservation. As an advocate, much of her work is completed behind a computer and locked in meetings, but her goal is to help bring awareness to the threatened status of guitarfish in the Mediterranean. The current Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, Ali represents a large number of regional partners to engage with governments, develop new resources and coordinate guitarfish conservation activities.
With a BSc (Hons) in marine environmental science and an MSc in applied marine science, I have worked as an advocate for marine conservation for more than 20 years. I have been intrigued by the sea from a young age; as a child in Cyprus I could often be found sitting on the seabed (with a lap full of rocks to weigh me down), feeding an insatiable curiosity for life underwater. I later wound up in North Queensland, Australia, where as a teenager I worked in environmental tourism by crewing on a traditional boat that took the public and researchers...
Quantify, and mitigate against, the impact of fishing and the associated commercialisation of guitarfishes on the North African and Eastern Mediterranean coast.
Giant guitarfishes are the world’s most threatened marine fishes, and the Critically Endangered [Giant] blackchin guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) is native to the Mediterranean. Also found in the region is the Endangered common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos). Discussions with regional scientists and informal visits to fish markets in Tunis hinted at the potential extent of this fishery. Conversations with market traders confirmed: there is no understanding of the threatened status of guitarfishes, let alone regional legislation prohibiting retention.
Giant guitarfishes (family Glaucostegidae) and wedgefishes (family Rhinidae), have been deemed the world’s most threatened marine fishes. All but one of these 16 shark-like ray species have been assessed as Critically Endangered based on IUCN Red List criteria. Their fins are among the most valuable in the global shark fin trade. Low reproductive rates make them inherently vulnerable to overexploitation, while the coastal fisheries that target or retain them as bycatch are poorly monitored, essentially unregulated, and increasingly intense. Parts from these species are often landed and traded together. CITES Appendix II listing was [successfully] sought to limit exports, prompt urgently needed national protections, improve fisheries and trade data, and complement commitments under other international instruments, thereby increasing the chances of preventing extinction and reversing declines. GSRI 2019 Critically Endangered [Giant] blackchin guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) and the Endangered common guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) are native to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is a highly complex, multijurisdictional region surrounded by over 20 countries and territories, across three continents. There has been a significant decline in species richness, coinciding with reported declines in elasmobranch abundance. Overfishing is the key threat. Subsistence or small-scale fisheries are deeply rooted in the fabric of the Mediterranean. 84% of the fishing fleet, ~70,000 vessels, operate in small-scale fisheries, generally supplying local markets. A key constraint to delivering effective conservation activities is reaching this sector. The dispersed nature of the region’s fishing activity makes quantifying species-specific elasmobranch bycatch challenging. Over 65% of all reported elasmobranch catches in the Mediterranean are landed in the aggregate. Guitarfishes are under threat in the Mediterranean with target fisheries and evident market demand. Intervention is essential to quantify the level of threat & educate fishers and traders, whilst reminding governments of their commitments. Coordinated engagement of local organisations, should maximise success.
This project aims to quantify, and mitigate against, the impact of fishing and the associated commercialisation of guitarfishes on the North African and Eastern Mediterranean coast.
Demian’s team is developing tools that help border control officers identify illegal shark products. His project is sifting through ‘rhino ray’ DNA sequences looking for differences in code between the guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes nicknamed for their pointy snouts (and Endangered status). Months of testing will help ensure only rhino ray DNA is targeted before the team flies to Hong Kong to help officials use a portable DNA tester. This project will add to the arsenal currently being used to identify illegal shark fins moving across borders, and help stop the trafficking of ‘rhino ray’ fins.
Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.
Nadia learns about life in the sea, from those who spend their lives around the sea. Collecting Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) about sharks, sawfishes, manatees and sea turtles, she connects this information with spatial data to understand Mexico’s marine biodiversity. Nadia is focused on Holbox Island off the Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo. The island forms a coastal lagoon surrounded by mangroves (thought to be shark breeding grounds) with its seafloor covered by seagrasses. Holbox is a treasure trove of marine life that Nadia is intent on helping manage in the wake of rapid development.