Following the tremendous response to our post on the UAE’s burgeoning fin shark trade (despite a ban on shark finning we might add), we at Green Prophet have embarked on impromptu ‘save the shark’ campaign.
Over the last month, we have interviewed leading figures involved in shark protection in the Middle East such as the Emirate Diving Association and the International Fund for Animal Welfare in the Middle East. We explored a wide array of possible solutions to shark conservation such as empowering consumers to stop buying sharks, working with fisherman to halt the trade to changing attitudes worldwide through TV and film-making. We caught up with Rima Jabado, a marine scientist who has worked all around the world, to find out about her research into sharks in the Arabian Gulf and the threat of habitat destruction.
Green Prophet: Can you tell us a little about yourself, why you work with sharks and your current research?
Rima: I am a marine scientist and have worked in various locations around the world on various conservation projects including sharks, dolphins, corals and turtles. I have always been fascinated with sharks and wanted to work with them. When I moved to the UAE, I realized there was little information on elasmobranches [sharks, rays and skates] in general in the region and decided to pursue my PhD to gain a better understanding of their status and threats to them in the region. I am therefore looking at various aspects of sharks and their fishery along the Arabian Gulf coast of the UAE and investigating the international fin trade from the UAE through a genetic study.
Green Prophet: What is a normal days work for you?
It really depends on the day! Some days are spent interviewing fishermen at the various fisheries cooperatives or landing sites across the country; some are spent identifying, sexing, measuring and collecting genetic samples at various landing sites; some are spent in the laboratory preparing field equipment, dissecting sharks or extracting DNA; and some are spent on the boat waiting for sharks to be tagged and released.
Green Prophet: Are sharks experiencing new threats in the Middle East? What are the major threats to sharks?
I think sharks in the region are experiencing similar threats as in other parts of world. Targeted fisheries are the major threat especially for the international fin trade. However, they also face threats from habitat destruction and degradation.
Green Prophet: What kind of findings have come from your research so far?
I’ve confirmed 27 species of sharks from landings across the UAE and have determined trends in their distribution and abundance. My interviews with fishermen provided me a lot of information on the characteristics of the fishery, the type of gear used, trends in shark catch and the value of the various species.
Green Prophet: I understand that you have overseen the dissection of sharks. What uses does dissection have for research and protecting shark populations?
I actually did the dissections myself. I purchase two species of commercially important sharks from markets on a monthly basis to gain a better understanding of their biology, reproduction and feeding habits while collecting samples for parasitology, toxicology and growth studies. The information provided will allow me to gain an insight on their life-history traits and provide information to undertake a stock assessment of these species. This information is crucial to develop management plans for their conservation while ensuring their long term sustainability.
Green Prophet: Are you hopeful for the future of sharks in the Middle East region?
I think that there is increasing awareness of the threats that sharks face in this region. I am hopeful that with more research and a better understanding of the situation, scientists and resource managers can work together to protect the species that are most vulnerable while ensuring the sustainable catch of the remaining species.
:: Images via Rima Jabado
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Help support the future survival of sharks and protect the oceans via the ‘Shark Rescue’ campaign. Ran Elfassy, Director of Shark Rescue said, “Shark Rescue was founded in Hong Kong – ground zero of the shark trade – but the shark trade spans the world’s oceans. This is a global challenge that needs a global solution… Over a third of the 300ish shark species are close to extinction – because of people – so once people decide to protect them, they won’t go extinct. It’s a numbers game, and we simply need people to join us to make a difference!”