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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Shark Week can reel more residents into preserving marine life

Information on sightings of sharks and rays helps collect scientific data

Divers from a shark reproduction research team track a Sand Tiger at Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall. Campaigners say public support is essential to back up the work of marine conservation professionals. Antonie Robertson / The National
Divers from a shark reproduction research team track a Sand Tiger at Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall. Campaigners say public support is essential to back up the work of marine conservation professionals. Antonie Robertson / The National

Greater effort is needed by organisations in the UAE to protect and keep sharks from the brink of extinction.

Marine expects said that the annual Shark Week, which runs until Saturday, should be used to focus on conservation policies, research and bringing more residents on board to help save the species.

“We need more organisations in the UAE to be involved in raising awareness of the status of sharks locally and also across the region,” said Rima Jabado, regional vice chair for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Shark Specialist Group in the Indian Ocean.

“Public aquariums can play a key role in education and awareness. It would be great to see them more involved and developing education programmes specific to sharks and rays, as is done by aquariums around the world.”

There are 43 shark and 29 ray species in the Arabian Gulf and Sea of Oman, of which two out of five are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

High-risk species include the green sawfish, and hammerhead and whale sharks.

A plan of action was released by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment last month to save shark and ray species from extinction.

“The UAE National Plan of Action for Sharks provides guidance that can be taken at the research, policy, and capacity-building levels,” Ms Jabado said.

She urged people to report sightings of sharks and rays to help scientists collect data.

Involvement of the public is crucial in the project she runs to gain a better understanding of the species that frequent these waters.

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Special shark-themed activities were held by the Atlantis, The Palm hotel this week, with guests invited to talks, feeding sessions for bowmouth guitarfish and educational conservation videos.

“We invite guests and residents to come and learn more about these misunderstood predators during Shark Week and make the most of our unique marine experiences,” said Natasha Christie, director of the hotel’s Lost Chambers aquarium.

Another crucial step is the enforcement of a seasonal fishing ban on all sharks. It is in place during the main breeding season from February to June.

“Enforcement needs to be strengthened by the competent authorities to ensure that it is effective, especially because sharks are often caught as bycatch,” Ms Jabado said.

“The dates proposed for the ban were based on evidence indicating that many shark and ray species in the UAE were using inshore habitats as breeding and nursery areas.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week broadcasts dedicated programmes that draw attention to the plight of the creatures by building on the public’s fascination with them.

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