Shark Conservation In Arabia
The National: DUBAI // Effective conservation measures in the Arab world could help to secure the future of shark species that are threatened with extinction globally, a conference was told yesterday.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List ranks the level of threat faced by a wide range of animals including sharks, rays and related species.
However, the figures apply to worldwide populations, and a lack of research in the region means it is not known whether or not populations here have fallen to dangerously low levels.
If further studies show there are thriving populations here then some species could be thrown a lifeline if adequate measures are taken to protect them by the region’s governments.
The region’s shark populations possess strong genetic diversity, and researchers believe there are important breeding grounds here.
“In the Arabian Sea there are 47 threatened species, six are critically endangered, six are endangered and a further 35 are vulnerable,” said Dr Nick Dulvy of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean they are under threat in this region, this mean that their global status is vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. But it highlights that there are opportunities within this region to secure the status of these species globally.”
There are no detailed figures for the region’s shark populations because shark research is in its infancy in this part of the world. The first study was conducted off Oman only three years ago, though since then a number of doctorate researchers have begun.
Dr Dulvy was addressing government officials from across the Arab world and fellow scientists on the first day of the Shark Conservation in Arabia Workshop in Dubai. The event is being held so the latest research findings and developments can be shared.
A key to safeguarding threatened species is ensuring genetic diversity. Dr Dulvy said recent research had highlighted that one of the top four most genetically distinct areas included the Arabian Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.
“What’s not in the Red List is the hidden diversity,” he added. “The more work we do in this region the more we realise that there’s a whole series of different shark species that have been discovered or rediscovered in the last 10 years.”
Another speaker, taxonomy expert Dr Will White, told delegates about one such species, the smoothtooth blacktip shark. This was first described in 1985 from a single specimen caught off Yemen 100 years earlier – but in 2008 the species was rediscovered when 25 were found off Kuwait.
“It has a very restricted distribution, mostly just occurring in the Gulf,” he said.
The biggest threat to the survival of sharks is fishing. The fins are highly valued in China where they are used to make soup. The UAE is the fifth largest exporter of shark fins. However, many other countries are involved in the trade, which is largely unregulated.
Dr Dulvy said: “We know from Red List data that half of the 69 high-volume or high-value sharks and rays in the fin trade are threatened. This is one of the most severe threatening processes described for any vertebrate group.”
The workshop heard about regional studies that have been launched to discover more about the whale shark, the world’s largest fish which can grow to more than 20 metres in length.
Whale sharks form large groups that can number several hundred, and in other parts of the world these often consist mainly of males. Unusually some of these found in Arab waters contain large numbers of females, underlining the importance of the region in terms of breeding.
The Shark Conservation in Arabia workshop has been organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Water and Sharkquest Arabia. The invitation-only event continues until Thursday.