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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 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:

In the first quarter of 2020, the PI Andrianus Sembiring and his colleagues at Bionesia continued their sampling activities, with the focus being on collecting shark-derived food samples from restaurants. They are collaborating with staff from WWF, and on January 23 the two groups met to discuss their plans and sampling strategy. The sampling will be carried out in four major exporter cities in Indonesia, including Bali, Jakarta, Makassar, and Medan, and the first samples were collected in several restaurants in Bali on February 15 and 18. On March 9, the PI and his colleagues were invited to participate in a meeting in Jakarta at the Department of Research and Natural Resources, Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Indonesia, to discuss the shark data collection protocol. As part of this program, the Bionesia researchers provided the government specialists with input on how to collect genetic data on shark landings, especially for shark body parts that are difficult to identify using morphological characters.

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)

On the outreach side of the project, team members led a three-session shark education program for 20 high school students at SMAN 2 Tejakula, in North Bali. The classes were held every other Saturday during a six-week period (February 9, February 23, and March 8) and covered various topics related to marine life and conservation, including ocean zones, coral reef ecosystems, and methods for evaluating reef health. In addition to the class lectures and materials, students gained hands-on experience practicing new skills in the field.

By mid-March, unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic forced Bionesia and all other nonessential organizations to shut down, so the staff had to work from home for weeks. This caused the suspension of planned workshops, field collection trips, and lab analytical work. During the second quarter of 2020, the team was able to hold three online meetings with the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Conservation and Marine Biodiversity, to discuss about plans for research collaboration and other activities. The PI and his group plan to build an Indonesian shark genetic database and collaborate on research on other protected species. As of mid-June they are in the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry to support this collaboration. As for future activities, they plan to hold a webinar series with several university partners and will have further discussions about the proposed MoU with Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries as the output of their previous meetings. Collaborative research and other activities will begin as soon as the MoU is signed. Meanwhile, as restrictions on activities within the workplace have been lifted, the team is back in the lab and continuing to test their RT-PRC methods.

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