The Raja Ampat epaulette shark can be found in the protected waters of the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area in Indonesia. A Near Threatened species, it is endemic (found nowhere else in the world) to this region. But even havens now show our human footprint: Muhammad is investigating reports of declines in the epaulette shark’s population here, where the impact of tourism in the form of development and boat traffic might be impacting these sharks. He’s updating the information about the population, its distribution and threats to it to ensure these sharks are managed both inside and outside the marine protected area.
I was born and raised in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. My interest in the ocean began when I was a child and I watched ocean and wildlife animal documentaries on television every day. Because of these I grew to love the ocean and decided to study marine science. In my early years at university, my interest was marine conservation, with a particular focus on elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). While learning about elasmobranchs in class, outside the classroom I worked with GAIA Conservation, a local community that focuses on the conservation of marine megafauna. I also took...
To improve the conservation of the Raja Ampat epaulette shark in Raja Ampat Islands by studying the species’ ecology and providing scientific and evidence-based recommendations to stakeholders to enable them to plan how to manage and protect it. We also aim to promote citizen science as a long-term effort to conserve the species.
Despite the Raja Ampat epaulette shark’s conservation status of Near Threatened and its occurrence in the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area, its population is declining due to pressure from fisheries and habitat degradation caused by tourism development. However, the species is poorly studied in Indonesia. This project will provide information about the shark’s ecology and promote citizen science as a long-term conservation effort to support stakeholders’ initiatives to protect the species.
The Raja Ampat epaulette shark Hemiscyllium freycineti is endemic to the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua, Indonesia. Although it is classified as Near Threatened, its population is believed to be declining, based on anecdotal reports over the past five years that suggest the construction of tourist accommodation and the disturbance caused by boat traffic over reef flats are impacting the sharks. Degradation of the species’ reef-flat habitat also occurs in approximately 20% of its distribution range due to the combination of tourism development and climate change. Furthermore, the fact that these sharks are found only over shallow sea-grass beds, coral reefs and rocky outcrops at a maximum depth of 10 metres (33 feet) means that their distribution in Raja Ampat is likely to be restricted by trenches and deep water between islands. The species has a significant level of protection, with 80% of its range located within a network of marine protected areas and its full range safeguarded by Raja Ampat Regency Law No. 9/2012. Despite its distribution in some marine protected areas, however, it is believed to still face pressure from artisanal fishing, including by hand line from about 120 villages throughout its range. Collection for the aquarium trade may also be a factor in its decline, although the exact effect of this is not known. Research into this species has been limited since it was first observed in 2003. More is needed to learn about its population and distribution and the threats it faces so that it can be better managed, whether it occurs inside or outside marine protected areas.
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.