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Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)

Advancing shark conservation through innovative molecular and multi-stakeholder approaches

PI: Andrianus Sembiring (,, Yayasan Biodiversitas Indonesia (Bionesia), in partnership with Udayana, Diponegoro, and Nahdlatul Ulama Universities
U.S. Partner: Paul Barber, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Dates: November 2019 - October 2022

Project Overview:
Intensive shark fishing, driven by the high demand for shark fins from China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, is rapidly depleting global shark populations, with corresponding negative impacts on marine ecosystems. To combat these declines and preserve ecosystem function, a consortium of stakeholders is taking important steps to protect global shark populations. One important step is listing 12 shark species as critically endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Indonesia is among the world’s leading shark fishing nations, with average landings of about 100,000 metric tons per year (FAO, 2015). Indonesian regulations on shark fisheries follow CITES guidelines, but these regulations are nearly impossible to enforce because of the high volume of the fishery and because the landings come in a form (fins) that precludes species identification. The inability of government regulators to identify shark fins entering the global market prevents regulatory enforcement, contributes to ineffective management of Indonesian shark fisheries, and allows the illicit trade of protected elasmobranchs. DNA barcoding is a molecular genetic technique where an unknown sample can be identified by species by comparing its DNA sequence to a reference database. This powerful technique is commonly used in wildlife forensics, but it takes several days to DNA barcode a sample of interest. This time lag severely hampers the ability of regulators to inspect and identify samples from shark fin shipments because many countries, including Indonesia, only provide 24 hours for species identification prior to shipment. Therefore, there is a critical need for a reliable, fast, and cost-effective method for positive species identification of shark products entering international markets.

This PEER project focuses on developing tools to provide the data required for meaningful enforcement of existing regulations, supporting sustainable shark fisheries in Indonesia. The project has four major activities: (1) developing a DNA-based field deployable assay to identify and detect CITES-listed sharks, (2) providing current information on shark exploitation in Indonesia, (3) integrating genetics and traditional fisheries data to support sustainable shark fishing and trading policies, and (4) catalyzing multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance shark research and conservation efforts in Indonesia. Indonesia conducts pre-shipping inspections to prohibit the export of 12 endangered shark species. However, most of these shipments are not checked thoroughly, due to the limited capacity of the regulators to identify shark fins to species, as in most cases species identification cannot be made in the absence of other morphological data. To overcome this challenge, this PEER team will develop a field deployable RT-PCR assay. RT-PCR is a molecular tool that can rapidly determine whether an unknown sample is a species of interest in a cost-effective manner. This assay would provide the species identification data to allow regulators to hold or seize shipments containing CITES-listed sharks, increasing enforcement capabilities to prevent the illicit trade of protected sharks. In addition, these data will help managers better understand Indonesian shark fisheries more generally, promoting their sustainability.

Summary of Recent Activities:

During the first quarter of 2022, PI Andrianus Sembiring and his team were busy with training and mentoring several university students receiving scholarship support under this PEER project. One university student from Bangka Belitung University, Feby Silvia, passed her undergraduate thesis defense exam. Her research topic is “DNA Barcoding of Rhyncobatus australiae around Bangka Belitung.” Feby used DNA barcoding methods to identify shark and ray body parts that were sold around Bangka Belitung. A student from Teuku Umar University, Waldi Amin, is working on the DNA barcoding of R. australiae around Southwest Aceh. He is currently analyzing his data and writing his undergraduate thesis. In the future, there will be two other Master’s students and three undergraduate students who will receive research scholarships from this project, including one student from Diponegoro University-Semarang, one student from Universitas Negeri Papua, and three undergraduate students from Udayana University. Therefore, there will be a total of five undergraduates and two Master’s students receiving scholarship support. Meanwhile, the project also involves several students doing internships. Five students from Udayana University and Teuku Umar University-Aceh finished their six-month internships during the first quarter of this year, and they will continue to work on the topic of shark population genetics for their undergraduate theses. In the next quarter, the team will also accept a new intern from Mataram University-Lombok.

On the research side of the project, the PI and his colleagues have continued their sampling activity and laboratory work. In this quarter they collected 20 samples from Lombok and Banyuwangi, which will be analyzed using rtPCR in coming months. They have already completed preliminary testing for the rtPCR methods for shark identification. As for outreach and dissemination, on January 4, 2022, the team conducted the last of their shark education programs for school students, with this one being held at a senior high school in Tejakula, North Bali. Thirty students participants in the event, which included both in-class instruction and practical field activities.

In the spring and summer of 2022, this PEER team will continue collecting and analyzing shark DNA samples from East Java and Lombok and mentoring their scholarship students and interns. They are also collaborating with the Department of Marine Science and Technology at IPB University, Bogor, to conduct the International Seminar on Marine Biodiversity, Utilization, Conservation, and Management (MarBioUtiCoM). The seminar will be held August 8-9 and will feature U.S. partner Prof. Paul Barber as an invited speaker.

8-124 Shark Education8-124 Ministry Meeting
Project team member Dani leading a shark education session for students in North Bali.The Department of Research and Natural Resources-Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Indonesia invited the team to discuss shark data collection protocol. (photo courtesy of Dr. Sembiring)

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