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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 2023

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 last quarter of 2022, Andrianus Sembiring and his colleagues continued their activities along multiple lines, including research support for university students, an internship program, sampling activities, laboratory work, convening events, and a marine education program for schoolchildren. In this quarter, six students from three universities in Indonesia received scholarships to support their research related with the project. The students included three undergraduates from Udayana University, two master’s degree students from Diponegoro University, and one undergraduate from Mataram University-Lombok. All of the students are conducting shark research for their required theses. During this entire project, eight students have received research scholarships. In addition, two undergraduates from Udayana University were also participating in internships on the project, with their six-month terms running from August 2022 through January 2023. Their focus was on learning laboratory techniques and gaining experience in genetic data analysis.

As of February 2023, the project team has collected 50 samples from three shark exporter companies in Bali, and they are currently in the process of running quick identification protocol tests on all those samples. Moreover, from all 12 primers for shark CITES identification, the researchers have managed to test 6 primers and are still working to still in progress to successfully complete all the test on all the 12 primers.

On the outreach side, during this past quarter the team collaborated with IPB University and several other institutions to conduct an international seminar, known as the International Seminar on Marine Biodiversity, Utilization, Conservation and Management (MarBioUtiCoM) 2022. Details about this seminar are available at The seminar was held in August 8-9, 2022, with the theme “Bolstering the Health of Our Ocean and Ensuring the Sustainable Use of Marine Bioresources.” During this seminar, Andrianus and his colleagues also presented their research results. Their U.S. partner, Dr. Paul Barber, was also invited as one of the keynote speakers for the event, which attracted about 200 students and researchers as participants. In January 2023, the PEER team also held a meeting with BPSPL Denpasar (Balai Pengelolaab Sumber Daya Pesisir dan Laut Denpasar, the Denpasar Coastal and Marine Resources Management Center) to discuss their results. The government agency officials expressed their interest in trying out the team’s shark verification protocol in the field. Meanwhile, the PEER researchers also completed their marine education program for schoolchildren. A total of 100 students from five schools in Bali participated, learning about the shark conservation program and how they could help advance the cause of marine environment conservation.

Another no-cost extension has been issued on this project through October 2023, due to multiple delays encountered as a result of the COVID pandemic. During the first half of 2023, Andrianus and his team will collect samples in East Java, continue their laboratory work testing additional primers for the shark identification protocol, and work to identify all the samples collected. They also plan to organize a workshop and training course in collaboration with BPSPL Denpasar, to which their U.S. partner Prof. Barber has been invited to serve as a guest lecturer. Finally, the team will also present their work at the Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium, to be held in Singapore June 19-23, 2023.

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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