In search of solutions

Alor is located in the East Nusa Tenggara Province, representing almost 30% of Indonesia’s marine protected area. However, East Nusa Tenggara is one of the most productive shark fishing areas, where many coastal populations depend on fisheries that have minimal management place. In Alor, though the practice of thresher shark fishing has been happening for some years, it’s still poorly documented, and previously unknown to local government institutions.

My work with Thresher Shark Indonesia was initially to discover the local thresher shark fishing practices, unravel the communities’ dependency on the fisheries, and find the potential conservation intervention that could protect the species. We also conducted the ecological studies by combining the satellite and acoustic telemetry studies to see the movement and potential critical habitats for future site-based protection within the Alor MPA.

The launch of Thresher Shark Indonesia has provided initial data about the presence of thresher sharks, as well as the possibilities for conservation intervention to shark-dependent communities. Our campaigns have reached more than 700 people. In 2020, the project established the first local regulation that focuses on protecting the rights of small-scale fishermen who are depending on endangered marine animals. The regulation set to diversify livelihoods, providing access to capital and markets, in order to reduce the dependency of the communities towards endangered marine animals, including thresher sharks.

Our acoustic tagging project, which was conducted at the end of 2020, has provided exciting results – three diving locations have shown multiple detections of thresher sharks. Two of them are showing multiple visits of two individuals over the course of two months after the tagging was initiated. This has raised a new question of whether there are cleaning stations around Alor. However, the two main locations were also close to the shark fishing grounds for local shark fishermen. Therefore, it increases the urgency to protect the area as a critical habitat for thresher sharks.

Our recent surveys have recorded predominantly pregnant females around the area. The main fishing ground for shark fishermen is inside the Bay of Kalabahi. Therefore, there is a possibility of thresher sharks utilising the area as a birthing ground. Although there is not enough data and information to draw a conclusion, continuous fishing pressures towards pregnant females would eliminates the opportunity for the sharks to give birth, and therefore undermined the ability to sustain the population in the future.

Discovering the first critical habitat in Indonesia, such as a nursery habitat or cleaning station would put a spotlight on the species. The local discovery of critical habitats could bring the policy changes at the national level, and increase the urgency of protecting them in the near future. Furthermore, If the critical habitat could be protected locally in Alor, it will give the chance of pregnant females to give birth and recover the population around the connected waters of Alor within the East Nusa Tenggara Province.

To find out more about the impact of shark fishing on communities in Alor, read the article in Issue 18 of Oceanographic Magazine or find out here

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