Marine biologists and researchers gathered in Abu Dhabi to create the first regional endangered species list and find out how to better conserve threatened sharks, rays and chimaeras throughout the Arabian seas.
The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (Ead), working with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have submitted their findings from the meeting to re-evaluate the regional conservation status of the species in the region.
Sharks, rays and chimaeras form one of the world’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals, yet a quarter of the world’s species are threatened with an elevated risk of extinction, and ray species are found to be at an even higher risk than sharks.
"Usually the IUCN assessed the status of a species around the world, but more and more we are trying to determine the status of species on a regional level, and this is the first regional assessment of sharks and rays in the north-west Indian Ocean region," said Dr Rima Jabado, a fisheries scientist at the Ead and the regional co-chair of the IUCN’s shark specialists.
The findings from 22 scientists involved in the research will be published in June and will help governments and organisations redirect their conservation priorities towards those species identified as endangered.
In fact, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, to be published this year, is expected to make use of those findings to base its decisions on the conservation status of the more than 153 species of sharks, rays and chimaeras that exist in the region.
"While there have been significant regional policy efforts over the past five years, effective conservation requires a better understanding of the threats species face in our region and their conservation status," said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Ead’s executive director of terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector.
Overexploitation from targeted as well as incidental catch is the main threat causing declines in species worldwide and increasingly so in the region.
"Sharks and rays are facing an elevated risk of extinction worldwide and we are concerned about the long-term survival of these species.
"Most [shark] species tend to grow slowly and produce few young, leaving them particularly vulnerable to overfishing," said Dr Nick Dulvy, the shark specialist group co-chair.
Results from studies in the UAE and the broader region also suggest that several species of sharks and rays face high levels of exploitation, with declines in population numbers over the past decade.
The project plans to publish findings that will differentiate between global conservation classes and those that specifically pertain to the north Arabian Sea region, which includes the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea down to India and Sri Lanka.
"For example, the sawfish is considered critically endangered on a global scale, so the idea here is to determine what the status of these species is in the region, considering they are occasionally captured off Abu Dhabi," Dr Al Dhaheri said.
This would allow scientists and researchers to refocus their -efforts on the animals that require the most care.
The report, to be published in June, will be useful as reference material and a guide for conservation efforts in the region.
The main pressures on the fish are overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution – and conservation efforts in the Gulf require more research to assess the risk for each species.