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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)


Advancing shark conservation through innovative molecular and multi-stakeholder approaches

PI: Andrianus Sembiring (andrianus@bionesia.org, andsembiring@gmail.com), Yayasan Biodiversitas Indonesia, in partnership with Udayana, Diponegoro, and Nahdlatul Ulama Universities
U.S. Partner: Paul Barber, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Dates: November 2019 - October 2020

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:

This project began on November 1, 2019, and during the final months of the year and into January 2020, the PI Mr. Sembiring and his group focused on setting up detailed work plans and making other preparations to begin project activities. They purchased the RT-PCR machine needed for the project and have begun protocol testing. The researchers also had several meetings with representatives of various institutions, including Balai Pengelolaan Sumberdaya Pesisir dan Laut [Coastal and Marine Resource Management Center] Denpasar, Yayasan Reef Check Indonesia, and two community groups: the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) group at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta and the coral reef conservation community Tejakula in Bali. The goal of the meetings was to discuss plans for arranging the project’s planned education classes in elementary schools in Bali, especially in Tejakula, and how the classes might be incorporated into the schools’ curricula.

In January and February 2020, the PEER team is hosting three internship students from Diponegoro University-Semarang and UGM. During the first half of 2020, the researchers will continue with their protocol and methodology testing and collect shark DNA samples. They will also continue with preparations for the fun and educational classes for elementary school students.

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