The thresher's under pressure
The big-eyed, long-tailed thresher shark has become rare in Indonesian waters, but a University of Queensland Master's student is using funding from a conservation award to help protect them.
“In recent years, their population has declined by 83 per cent worldwide, however specific information – such as their habitat use and population-risk status – is not well understood,” Ms Sari said.
Thresher sharks are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but Ms Sari said they were still frequently caught and killed across Indonesia, either through targeted fishing or as tuna fishing bycatch.
“We need to understand the community’s dependency on thresher shark fisheries, while introducing better conservation techniques at a local and government level,” Ms Sari said.
“Like all sharks, threshers are incredibly important as top predators in the marine ecosystem and a great indicator of ocean health.
“Their predatory behaviour maintains the balance of the ecosystem and ensures species diversity.”
Ms Sari and her team has been gathering information from fishery surveys, satellite tagging analysis, community engagement and citizen science, to better understand shark behaviour and the demands of local fishing communities.
“Our main focus is through community participation," she said.
"We’re working to increase local students’ awareness of these unique creatures, encouraging future conservation and fishery regulation.
“If we can achieve better insight into their habitat, aggregated nursery sites and habitual movements, we can be more effective in protecting the species from further population decline.”
Some of the team’s researchers are based in Alor, an island north of Timor Leste, and Ms Sari works remotely on the conservation project while she completes her Master’s at UQ.
“At the moment, I’m responsible for analysing data that my team has gathered in the field,” she said.
“Once I complete my studies, I’ll be able to lead stakeholder meetings to develop a conservation strategy for thresher sharks around Alor.”
The team received funding for the project after receiving the Conservation Leadership Programme award for Asia Pacific Region.
“Running my own conservation project to protect marine ecosystems is one of my life goals,” Ms Sari said.
“This experience has been a dream come true.
"I’m so grateful to have an opportunity to protect such a beautiful species.”
The project had been a valuable learning experience in remote research.
“We won the award as a team, and have continued to work as a team, requiring a lot of long-distance communication," Ms Sari said.
“It has significantly developed my communication and collaboration skills.”
Ms Sari says she is confident the team's work will create "vital insight" into the behaviour and protection of thresher sharks.
“Our efforts will become a stepping stone to further activities to protect the thresher shark in Indonesia,” she said.
“With the information collected throughout this project, we can finally deliver key resources that decision makers can use to enforce a conservation strategy in Indonesia.”