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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 last quarter of 2020, the PI Mr. Sembiring and his group welcomed four undergraduate internship students from the Biology Faculty of Udayana University. The students will participate in the project activities, including field sampling, preservation of samples, and lab-based activities such as DNA extraction, PCR, and electrophoresis). They will also participate in the Shark Education Program that the team had previously started at the school in Tejakula, North Bali. The period of this internship program will be for 6 months, from January through June 2021.

The Shark Education Program has convened five training meetings as of the end of 2020. Held November 22-23, the fifth meeting focused on introducing the concept of protected marine animals, or animals that need conservation protection. During this class meeting, the PEER team also emphasized things that students can do to protect marine animals and help promote marine conservation. In addition to students from three different schools, the participants in this activity included members of the fisher community around Tejakula. This education program also includes a component on diving certification, helping selected high school students and members of POKMASWAS Pacung community gain their diving certificates. Through this certification, it is expected that they will have the skills necessary to help with conservation of the marine ecosystem in Tejakula, Bali, and will be empowered to pass on the motivation and knowledge of marine conservation to their fellow students or community members.

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)

Another highlight of the past quarter was a meeting between PEER team members and representatives of the Department of Conservation and Biodiversity, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP). The PI’s organization BIONESIA signed a memo of understanding (MOU) with the Department for collaboration in conducting programs on marine protected species, especially for shark conservation. The organization also signed MOUs Nusa Cendana University and Nusa Nipa University to conduct collaborative research and joint programs, including on shark research and molecular genetics training for their students and researchers.

As of January 2021, Bali and other regions of Indonesia remain under semi-lockdown, which has impacted project activities by limiting in-office working hours and the number of persons who can be in the lab or office at any one time. Therefore, some lab and field activities have had to be postponed. The PI, his research colleagues, and the internship students will be continuing their sample collection activities around Bali and their work in the lab as best they can while following all required COVID-19 safety protocols.

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