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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 2021

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 second quarter of 2021, a student from Bangka Belitung University who received a research scholarship under the project collected 100 shark samples at Bangka Belitung. The project team is being processed at the PI’s lab in Bali, first being analyzed using DNA barcode methods to identify the species and then continuing to rtPCR analysis. Meanwhile, the first group of student interns on the project completed their six-month program in late June 2021. The four students, all from Udayana University, presented their activities in a report to their university. The internship activity is part of a larger collaborative program between Bionesia and Udayana University to promote Indonesia’s new curriculum initiative known as “Merdeka Belajar-Kampus Merdeka.”

Also in this period, Dr. Sembiring and his team completed their Shark Education Program for schoolchildren. During the program, they visited three schools in Tejakula, North Bali, as well as two non-profit organizations. Their activities were designed to share knowledge about the importance of sharks as the top predator in marine ecosystems and how to protect them. The activities conducted included classroom presentations and outdoor activities. The PEER team also collaborated with the Mero Foundation and Yayasan Anak di Bali for this education program. At the end of the program, the team conducted an evaluation and testing of the students involved, with the results showing that the participants achieved very good understanding of the material presented. Most of the students understood the importance of conservation of endangered and highly exploited species such as sharks. Furthermore, the team also succeeded in getting their educational program included in the curriculum of two of the schools they previously assisted during this project.

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)

Additional outreach activities during the second quarter included a basic molecular training workshop for staff from the Mero Foundation, as well as presentation of the team’s preliminary research findings at the International Seminar of Fish and Fisheries Science (ISFFS) 2021. This conference were organized online and co-hosted by Bionesia in collaboration with the Indonesian Ichtyological Society, Udayana University, the Indonesian Institute of Science, and the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia. In the coming months, Dr. Sembiring and his group will host an undergraduate student at their lab in Bali. This student, who comes from the Fisheries and Marine Science Faculty of Papua State University, will conduct undergradute thesis research on shark DNA barcoding based on samples collected off Papua.

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