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New Guide Aims To Help Endangered Sharks And Rays

A new guide has been created in a bid to halt the decline of sharks and rays.

As the plight of sharks and rays around the world worsens, James Cook University and WWF have launched the first-ever guide aimed at getting the best out of areas designed to protect them, and avoiding the mistakes of the past.

A quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, based on the IUCN Red List, with overfishing the biggest threat to their survival. The approximately 1,150 species of sharks and rays provide a wide array of crucial ecosystem functions, intertwining these creatures with the health of our oceans and the people who depend on them.

WWF and the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries & Aquaculture (CSTFA) at James Cook University have launched A Practical Guide to the Effective Design and Management of MPAs for Sharks and Rays, showing in practical terms how to establish and maintain a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for maximum effect.

The guide provides science-based advice on developing and maintaining MPAs for these species. The 52-page guide helps maximise the impact of spatial protection by outlining how to ensure the areas are well designed, implemented, managed and enforced for the long term.

The guide builds on the most comprehensive global analysis to date of the effectiveness of shark-focused MPAs, as well as a review of known information on the movement of sharks.

“MPAs have become a popular tool to try and address some of the conservation challenges that sharks and rays face. However, our research suggests that globally many are not providing positive benefits,” said guide co-author Colin Simpfendorfer, a Professor in the College of Science and Engineering at JCU.

“To be effective, MPAs for sharks and rays need clear goals, objectives and conservation targets, while incorporating scientific knowledge on shark movement patterns, ecology and habitat use alongside socioeconomic and cultural considerations,” he said.

Dr. Andy Cornish, Leader of the WWF’s Sharks: Restoring the Balance initiative, said, “Losing sharks undermines ocean ecosystems and deprives coastal communities of income and livelihoods, including tourism opportunities. Effective spatial protection of critical habitats is one of the most practical ways to reduce fishing mortality of sharks and rays, with potential benefits spanning improved fisheries management to the conservation and recovery of threatened species.”

Besides fisheries managers, the MPA guide is aimed at authorities responsible for marine habitat and species protection, Regional Fishery Management Organisations, NGOs and other MPA practitioners working to conserve sharks and rays, as well as marine tourism operators.

The guide’s aim of helping global efforts to halt the decline of sharks and rays, prevent extinctions and put measures in place to allow recoveries by 2025 is in line with the goal of the Global Shark and Ray Initiative’s (GSRI) global conservation strategy. Find out more here.

WWF and James Cook University would like to thank the Shark Conservation Fund for its support of the JCU-led project, ‘Maximising outcomes for shark and ray MPAs’, that contributed significantly to the production of this guide. Thanks also to the project’s partner institutions – the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the University of Queensland and Simon Fraser University – and to the project team for their input, comments and thoughts. The Guide is available here.

WWF and James Cook University would like to thank the Shark Conservation Fund for its support of the JCU-led project, ‘Maximising outcomes for shark and ray MPAs’, that contributed significantly to the production of this guide.

Thanks also to the project’s partner institutions – the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the University of Queensland and Simon Fraser University – and to the project team for their input, comments and thoughts.

The Guide is available here.