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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:

As the pandemic situation improved in Indonesia during the third quarter of 2021, Andrianus Sembiring and his colleagues were able to expand the scope of their PEER activities. In collaboration with Conservation International (CI) Indonesia, they have designed the Indonesian Youth Elasmobranch Scholarship (IYES) program, which aims to increase the capacity of Indonesia’s young generation on elasmobranch conservation through research scholarship. The program was initiated by CI and is supported by several Indonesian NGOs and government institutions. It will be launched in January 2022 and run for one year. Bionesia will also serve as the partner to assist the scholarship recipients with their research, particularly on shark and ray genetics. This new program will also leverage the existing student training work being carried out under this PEER project. During the third quarter of 2021, the PEER team hosted five undergraduate students from Universitas Pendidikan Ganesha (Undiksha) in Bali for three-month internships at Bionesia. Previously, they had also accepted and hosted an undergraduate student from Universitas Bangka Belitung through their PEER Scholarship program to conduct research at Bionesia for six months. The five students from Undiksha will work on a mini project to collect landing data on shark and rays at several landing sites, ports, and fish markets around Bali. They will also learn to do laboratory activities, from sample analysis to data analysis related to the ongoing shark project.

In addition, the PEER team is also supporting the Indonesia Elasmobranch Citizen Science Network (IECSN), which they are building in collaboration with the Elasmobranch Project Indonesia, a community organization that works on the conservation of sharks and rays In Indonesia. IECSN aims to connect all elements of elasmobranch conservation and serve as a support for the people to help gathering data on the diversity and distribution of elasmobranch species in Indonesia. The PEER team has facilitated a training program for 69 participants from 40 provinces around Indonesia to explain the importance of genetics in shark and ray conservation. Through this network, the researchers are hoping to increase the scope of research on shark and ray conservation genetics in Indonesia. –

On the sampling side of the PEER project, the team collaborated with a lecturer from Universitas Teuku Umar on sample collection in Aceh. They managed to collect 20 samples from shark landings in western Aceh (Indian Ocean). The researchers also collaborated with a student from Universitas Diponegoro in Semarang to collect sample around the Java Sea, collecting around 24 samples from Jepara, Central Java. In the remainder of 2021 and early 2022, they will analyze their collected samples from Aceh and Java. In addition, they plan to work on expanding collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries, especially with regard to capacity building.

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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