Endangered species

122 Important Shark and Ray Areas identified in Asia

The Important Shark and Ray Areas (ISRA) project, an initiative led by the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group, has released a compendium of Important Shark and Ray Areas identified in the waters of Asia.

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Bart Lukasik & Kimberly Jeffries

According to the IUCN, the Important Shark and Ray Areas (ISRAs) are “discrete, three-dimensional portions of habitat, important for one or more shark, ray, and chimaera species, that are delineated and have the potential to be managed for conservation”. Areas delineated range in size from 0.9 km2 to 420,817.93 km2, encompassing shallow coastal waters to seas as deep as 1,928 m. They are important for a wide range of threatened and non-threatened species including the widenose guitarfish, the giant freshwater whipray, and the megamouth shark.

The identified habitats are used by these species as reproductive areas or aggregation sites, feeding locations, or migratory pathways. Many shark and ray species found in Asian waters are assessed as threatened with extinction, and these newly identified areas should be considered for protection or fisheries management measures.

“ISRAs are a practical guide to protecting critical habitats for sharks and rays that can be used by relevant country management authorities as a baseline for establishing species-based protected areas with a strong scientific basis,” noted Dr Fahmi of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Indonesia and Regional co-Vice-Chair for the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group Asia region.

A regional workshop was held in January of this year in Bali, Indonesia, and brought together a team of 33 scientists including 23 experts from throughout the region along with 208 of contributors. The ISRA Criteria that were discussed throughout the workshop have been designed to capture important aspects of shark biology, ecology, and population structure and to encompass multiple aspects of species vulnerability, distribution, abundance, and key life cycle activities, as well as areas of high diversity. Almost 200 preliminary Areas of Interest were considered, and after review by an expert Independent Review Panel, the finalised list of 122 approved ISRAs (and 45 areas of Interest) is now available in the Compendium and the freely accessible eAtlas.

“We are pleased to put sharks and rays on the map through this biocentric process,” said Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, Senior Manager of the Marine Conservation Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Bangladesh and Regional co-Vice Chair for the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group Indian Ocean region. “The Swatch-of-No-Ground ISRA was identified from information provided by coastal fishers equipped and trained by WCS for improved at-sea safety in return for the provision of fishing effort and catch data. ISRAs support efforts to improve area-based conservation for sustaining globally threatened shark and ray populations, along with other marine wildlife and fisheries vital for a healthy ocean and healthy people.”

Now that these important areas have been identified, they can be prioritised for the protections they need or be considered in other area-based management measures by local governments.

Four regions have already been assessed since the project, funded by the Shark Conservation Fund, began in 2022 with a total of 377 ISRAs identified across 81 jurisdictions. This has been possible thanks to over 770 contributors from around the world that have shared their knowledge and supported the ISRA team in developing proposals. The next region of interest is Polar Waters which includes Arctic and Antarctic waters. The workshop will take place at the end of May. Over the next five years, regional workshops covering 13 global regions will have been completed to obtain a comprehensive map of critical habitats for sharks, rays, and chimaeras around the world.

“As we move from one region to the next, our findings are shining a light on the areas of the world where the most important sites for these sharks, rays, and chimaeras are located within the exclusive economic zones of countries but also in international waters. The spatial data we are developing will be key to inform policy as countries move towards effective protection of marine biodiversity,” said Dr Rima Jabado, Deputy Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Chair of the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group.

View the interactive e-atlas of all currently-identified Important Shark and Ray Areas here.  

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here


Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Bart Lukasik & Kimberly Jeffries

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