DUBAI // The click of a mouse may help save sharks from extinction.
A coalition of scientists and conservationists in the UAE who want to protect the species is among 12 finalists for grants of up to US$5,000 (Dh18,362) from Project Aware, a marine conservation foundation based in the US.
The projects that receive the largest number of votes on Facebook will go to a panel of experts who will decide the winner.
If the UAE initiative wins, the cash will pay for the Mobile Shark Soapbox, an information kiosk that will be placed in shopping malls, at beaches and in schools to raise awareness about the need to protect sharks from overfishing.
"We plan to take the kiosk to public spaces," said Melanie Salmon, one of the people behind the initiative of the Elasmobranch Protection Group. "It is important to make people, especially young people, aware of what they have got to lose before it is too late."
The UAE project was shortlisted along with 11 other initiatives, out of 68 entries. Other finalists are from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Sharks are an essential part of the marine ecosystem. As the top predator, their presence keeps many other species in check, maintaining a healthy balance.
In areas with depleted shark populations, fisheries suffer because some species multiply without check and compete with others for food. Sharks also prevent outbreaks of disease by eating less healthy and less agile animals.
But sharks are also very important commercially: many fishermen target them for their precious dorsal fins. The practice, which conservationists say is cruel and wasteful, is banned in the UAE, where only whole sharks can be caught and brought to land.
The UAE, and Dubai in particular, is a key export centre, with fins from sharks harvested in Oman and Yemen passing through on their way to China and other countries in the Far East, often to make shark fin soup.
"These valuable resources are being often unsustainably fished for consumption," said Ms Salmon, who is also the director of Global Ocean, a UK-based organisation.
Some of the shark species in UAE waters are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They includethe great hammerhead, the sawfish and the sandbar shark.
Ms Salmon said the Government should pay particular attention to these species, limiting fishing and trade. Another approach could include thoroughly studying shark populations.
Voting on Facebook is to continue until September 1.