How can we help some of the most threatened shark and ray species in their last remaining global strongholds by 2030? Collaboration.
Let’s back up and introduce the Shark and Ray Recovery Initiative. Also known as SARRI, the initiative brings together coastal communities, local partners, and experts to come up with comprehensive recovery plans to help out Chondrichthyan (shark, skate, ray, chimaera) species worldwide. While sharks are infamous for their role in World War II and Jaws, the species as a whole is in trouble — and we only have ourselves to blame. These mighty predators are globally threatened with extinction, with oceanic shark and ray numbers declining by 71% since 1970 due to overexploitation. As of today, 37% of all 1,200+ shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This makes effective, sustainable management critical to their conservation.
By creating management measures tailored for each location and species, testing and constantly improving the recovery approach in the field, SARRI aims to create a blueprint to helping threatened sharks and rays around the world. “We are at a critical point when it comes to the conservation of sharks and rays. We know that management measures can work and support the recovery of species. With SARRI, we can apply this knowledge to focus on threatened species that need the most attention and ensure context specific solutions can be applied in specific areas with the support of local communities and stakeholders,” said Dr. Rima Jabado, SARRI Founder and Technical Advisor as well as Founder of Elasmo Project and Chair of IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group.
“To really make a difference, we have to shift our focus from trying to maintain the status quo by conserving what is still left to recovering shark and ray species and restoring their populations to their former glory so that once again they could be maintaining a healthy balance in our oceans and fulfilling their ecological functions,” elaborated Dr. Andy Cornish, SARRI Founder and Leader of WWF Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme.
A big task, one that SARRI hopes to have accomplished for at least 15 populations by 2033. The Initiative has been designed to inspire and build expertise to catalyse these broader, organic recovery efforts. Think of it as a sort of ripple effect: SARRI is the stone thrown into a serene body of water, leaving only a series of expanding waves behind as it sinks deeper. By providing a set of scalable solutions that could be rapidly deployed in multiple places for multiple species, the team hopes to inspire radical sustainable change. It’s not completely unheard of, as past successful recoveries and population increases have been achieved by others – such as the smalltooth sawfish recovery in Florida (USA) as well as the return of sharks and rays in Tubbataha (Philippines), Cabo Pulmo (Mexico), or Misool (Indonesia). These prove that local population declines of sharks and rays can be reversed! “We need to apply, adapt, and scale lessons from these successes in places where some of the rarest species can still be found in reasonable numbers and where support is needed most,” the team said in a press statement.
The Initiative will first start with coastal communities who live near future recovery zones, providing open access to its know-how, recovery tools, as well as free training for experts and practitioners interested in recovering sharks and rays. SARRI explains: “As crucial custodians of the oceans and marine resources, SARRI will seek free prior, informed consent from communities at each project site before any conservation work can commence. Understanding community needs, SARRI will not only ensure the communities are involved in the project from the beginning but also that they co-design benefits linked to recovery efforts, which will be critical for every recovery zone.”
“By putting in special protections from fishing, we can actually start to recover populations. SARRI is not only going to protect where populations of some of the most threatened shark and ray species live, but also make sure that the conditions are right in the areas around them to enable these populations to grow,” said Prof. Colin Simpfendorfer, SARRI Founder and Technical Advisor as well as Adjunct Professor, James Cook University. He added: “SARRI is an initiative that not only the sharks and rays can benefit from but also the people that use the ocean as well.”
“We will be identifying the most important spatial measures that have been put in place for sharks and rays today, anywhere in the world. We will find populations of some of the most threatened shark and ray species that can be recovered during this initiative’s lifetime,” said Luke Warwick, SARRI Founder as well as Director of Shark and Ray Conservation, WCS. “If we don’t get this right, we could lose sharks and rays in the coming decades. They’re too vulnerable, they’re disappearing too quickly, and they need large protected areas with effective management now,” concluded Warwick.
Visit sarri.org to learn more about the Shark and Ray Recovery Initiative and discover how experts and practitioners can partner with SARRI.