Shark conservation in Arabia workshop starts in UAE

Jonathan Ali Khan; Saif Mohammed Al Shara, Assistant Undersecretary of Lifestock and Agricultural Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Water; and Dr Ralf Sonntag during the workshop on Monday.Yesterday, the regional Shark Conservation in Arabia workshop was opened by the Ministry of Environment and Water (MoEW), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Sharkquest Arabia (SQA).

The four day workshop was attended by more than seventy delegates representing the governments and scientific community from the GCC countries, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti and Germany.

In his opening speech, H.E. Saif Al-Shara, Assistant Undersecretary for Livestock and Agriculture Affairs at the MoEW remarked “The threats to species of such fish require all of us to think of this problem, its reasons and to lay down solutions as well.”

“The workshop aims to draw attention to the real threats to sharks. By bringing together scientists and government officials, we are creating a dialogue on why we need to work towards shark conservation and controlling global shark catch.” Said Dr. Elsayed Mohamed, Middle East Regional Director. “Shark conservation is a global issue; it is useless if we had a strong legislation to protect them in one country while its neighboring country has no legislations.”

Dr. Ralf Sonntag, IFAW’s Country Director in Germany remarked “Sharks play an important role as the “managers” of the reef, their disappearance will change the species composition and the ecosystem of coral reefs.”

One workshop presented by Dareen AlMojil from Cambridge University, looked at shark biology including their roles in ecosystems and reproduction. There was a fascinating look at the make-up of sharks skin and the benefit to humans by emulating its texture from swimsuits to paint on ships and wind turbines.

Dr. Will White (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) followed with an in depth look at taxonomy and shark identification. He said “This is a critical need to accurate identification guides to ensure accurate species composition data can be collected. A field guide to the species of sharks and rays in the Gulf would be extremely beneficial.”

“As many as 47 sharks and rays are threatened in this region, with this workshop we are taking an important step toward the sustainable management of shark fisheries and fin trade.” Dr. Nick Dulvy from IUCN SSG said.

In the afternoon there was an introduction to whale sharks with a focus on research in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, Saudi Red Sea, Qatar and the Indian Ocean.

Simon Pierce from Foundation for the Protection of Marine Megafauna pointed out “The Arabian Sea and Gulf region is a key area for whale shark research and conservation. Insight from this area will be a huge contribution to knowledge of the threatened giants.”

Today the workshop focused on what governments in Arabian countries are doing in terms of conservation and offered a great opportunity for the delegates to share information and good practice.

Government delegates presented key information on shark species, fishing and conservation measures as well as national legislation in their respective countries.

Dr. Sonntag continued “It became clear that a lot of efforts are being made in the region and some countries have already some good legislation in place. However, it became also clear that lack of enforcement is a big problem here, as it is unfortunately in many other regions of the world as well.”

“It is very important to improve this including issuing appropriate fines to punish illegal shark catching and finning as a criminal act versus the environment.” He added.

This important workshop has caught the attention of major media who are keen to highlight the issues surrounding sharks.  Televised media such as Al Jazeera, Sky News Arabia, China Central Television covered the workshop along with national and local outlets.

IFAW hopes this workshop will encourage government to take positive action toward shark conservation and also raise public awareness on the shark finning industry.

--MO

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