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© WWF-Indonesia / Wayan Suartana (Yansu)
© WWF-Indonesia / Wayan Suartana (Yansu)

Our 2020-2021 shark and ray conservation highlights

Added to Updates on 19 October 2021
Welcome to the latest update on the progress we are making together to help conserve sharks and rays around the world. Here is a snapshot of some of the fin-tastic things you've helped us achieve in 2020-2021, from discovering a new shark and ray hotspot in Fiji, to testing an innovative method of keeping these animals out of the nets in India, to assisting seven different countries with their national conservation plans for sharks and rays. Enjoy the read!

As the global shark and ray crisis grows, our conservation teams based in over 25 different countries and territories across six continents work hard to scale up, innovate, and improve to match the extent of the crisis. Since early 2020, we have had to grapple with additional obstacles. The COVID-19 pandemic has had – and continues to have – unimaginable impacts on human lives and nature. Sharks and rays and our conservation work to protect them have been affected too. Nevertheless, our teams worked very hard adapting to the new reality and collectively, we have managed to make a good progress in our fight to address the shark and ray extinction crisis. Here are some of the highlights of our work from July 2020-June 2021, which was possible thanks to you all -- our generous supporters.

Our Highlights in Numbers

  • 2 new reports released in Portugal and the Republic of the Congo helped us spark change in those countries
  • 5 different locations off the Gujarat coast where our India team tested a new catch mitigation device to keep juvenile sharks and rays out of the trawl nets
  • 6 countries whose authorities participated in our deep-dive workshops on marine protected areas to help them make their MPAs work better for sharks and rays
  • 7 countries we assisted with formulating or updating their national plans of actions for sharks and rays
  • 8 guests who refuse shark fin soup at a traditional Chinese-style banquet could save one shark. How do we know? Thanks to our new WWF Sharkulator!
  • 11 thresher sharks tagged by our Indonesian team off Bali to confirm a potential critical habitat and help improve how marine reserves in the area are managed
  • 12 shark and ray species for which our partner TRAFFIC released 3D printed fins to support customs and law enforcement officials with curbing the illegal wildlife trade
  • 26 countries and territories where our programme works on shark and ray conservation, making us the biggest such programme out there
  • 71% global population declines in oceanic sharks and rays since 1970! We launched our call to action for oceanic sharks and rays following the release of these harrowing statistics.
  • 85 sharks and rays -including individuals of three critically endangered species - recorded by our team and partners during the first-ever elasmobranch survey of Fiji's deepest river and its estuary
  • 500 shark and ray products removed by foodpanda Hong Kong from this online food delivery platform after signing WWF’s No Shark Fin Pledge

Discovering a Shark and Ray Hotspot in Fiji’s Deepest River

The eastern edge of the Dreketi estuary by the village of Navidamu WWF Pacific Andrew ParisThe eastern edge of the Dreketi estuary © WWF-Pacific / Andrew Paris

Following 20 days of field surveys in Fiji’s deepest river – Dreketi – back in early 2020, our team from WWF-Pacific together with partners completed data analysis and released the final results of the first-ever elasmobranch survey of the Dreketi River. The team found that the river and its delta are being used by seven different shark and ray species, including the critically endangered great and scalloped hammerhead as well as the bottlenose wedgefish.

Researcher Andrew Paris with community rep Tomasi Bula handling a juvenile blacktip shark c WWF Pacific Opeti VateiteiResearcher Andrew Paris with a community representative Tomasi Bula handling a juvenile blacktip shark © WWF-Pacific / Opeti Vateitei

The team recorded 85 individual animals over 20 days, with a high proportion of very young juveniles. That suggested that the Dreketi River with its estuary act as a pupping ground and a nursery area for several different shark and ray species, including some highly threatened ones. More research is needed to study these populations and better understand how they use the river. Effective protection of this incredible hotspot can only be achieved based on sound and reliable scientific data. 

Searching for Critical Thresher Habitat off Bali

WWF Indonesia team tagging a thresher shark near Bali c WWF Indonesia Wayan Suartana YansuWWF-Indonesia tagging a thresher shark off Bali © WWF-Indonesia / Wayan Suartana (Yansu) 

To help plug important data gaps on threatened thresher sharks in Indonesia – the biggest shark catching nation globally, our team organized a successful shark tagging expedition in fall 2020 off Bali’s south-eastern coast. Previous site surveys, when over 1,000 threshers had been caught by fishers in just three months, suggested that the Karangasem-Nusa Penida area – neighbouring with local fishing grounds – could be a critical habitat for this threatened species. Our team successfully tagged 11 individual sharks, completing 26 day trips and collaborating with local fishers. The initial findings confirm the Karangasem-Nusa Penida area indeed shelters a critical habitat for the threshers – a nursery, aggregation site, feeding grounds, and cleaning stations have been identified there. The results of the tagging project will assist with developing a more effective management plan for the proposed Karangasem marine protected area (MPA) and improving the management of the existing Nusa Penida MPA. 

Testing a New Catch Mitigation Technique in India

BRD being tested in Gujarat India c WWF India Nishant AndrewsA bycatch reduction device being tested in Gujarat © WWF-India / Nishant Andrews

Accidental catch in commercial trawl nets is a major threat to sharks and rays in India, where nearly 70% of fished sharks and rays come from trawl fisheries. Since 2018, our team in India has been working to develop an innovative gear technology to reduce numbers of juvenile sharks caught by accident in trawl nets. In 2020-2021, they successfully conducted efficiency trials of this new catch mitigation device. The device – a special escape hatch attached to the top of trawl nets – was tested in five different locations in the offshore waters of the Gujarat coast. Data collected during the trials will be used to further improve the efficiency of this mitigation technique and reduce accidental catches of juvenile sharks and rays.

Calling for Urgent Action to Save Oceanic Sharks and Rays 

Oceanic sharks and rays call to action c WWF Sharks Restoring the Balance© WWF Sharks: Restoring the Balance

Following the alarming news that oceanic sharks and rays suffered 71% population declines since 1970 due to overfishing, we launched an urgent call to action targeting all tuna fishing nations to reverse this dramatic trend. We’re calling for recovery plans for all endangered and critically endangered oceanic species by 2026, and 100% observer coverage on all industrial vessels by 2030, among a number of other urgent science-based measures. We are advocating with all major regional tuna fisheries organizations and their member states to bring oceanic sharks and rays back from the brink. Want to learn more? Read the “Ravaged by fishing” piece by our programme leader, Dr. Andy Cornish. And stay tuned for more as we’re only getting started! 

Driving Shark Fin Soup Consumption Down 

Foodpanda x Sharkulator collageLeft: © / WWF-Hong Kong | Right: © WWF Sharks: Restoring the Balance

Do you know how many sharks could be saved if eight guests refuse shark fin soup at a traditional Chinese-style banquet? Until 2020 nobody knew but that changed with the launch of the WWF Sharkulator. Based on our original research, this web app calculates how many sharks can be saved when consumers chose to go fin-free. The app is now helping our teams reduce shark fin soup consumption in the Hong Kong, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Chinese markets and raise awareness about the issue. But that’s not the end of good news on this front! 

Our Hong Kong team convinced foodpanda – one of the city’s biggest online food delivery services – to sign WWF’s No Shark Fin Pledge. The result? Over 500 shark and ray products offered by 145 restaurants have been removed from the platform! With Hong Kong being one of the world’s biggest hotspots for the fin trade, it was great to see foodpanda take action. 

Sparking a Change with New Research

Report CoversLeft: © ANP|WWF Portugal | Right: © TRAFFIC 

We have managed to spark a real change in the Republic of the Congo and Portugal thanks to two new publications. TRAFFIC’s rapid assessment of the artisanal shark fishing and trade in the Republic of the Congo led to a commitment by the fishing authorities to develop a national plan of action for sharks and rays (NPOA-Sharks) and implement CITES listings for these animals, which were the two key recommendations of our report. With TRAFFIC’s support, an NPOA roadmap has been developed and its various milestones started being implemented. The country’s CITES authority, on the other hand, requested support with fin ID materials and designating a scientific authority devoted to marine wildlife.

In Portugal, on the other hand, ANP|WWF’s advocacy report “Sharks and Rays: Guardians of the Ocean in Crisis” allowed our team to initiate meetings with national fishing authorities and government parties to call for a national action plan for sharks and rays – all recognized the importance of this recommendation and our team will continue providing support towards this goal.

Improving Marine Protected Areas for Sharks and Rays 

Raja Ampat Indonesia in the Coral Triangle c Shutterstock Andre Djohan WWFRaja Ampat in Indonesia, in the Coral Triangle © Shutterstock / Andre Djohan / WWF 

Marine protected areas (MPA) are a great tool for reducing mortality in sharks and rays – sadly, it is not used as often as it should. After years of advocacy, it seems the interest is growing among countries to make MPAs work better for sharks and rays. To support countries with reducing mortality this way, we have developed “Deep Dive MPAs for Sharks” training for authorities and resource managers. So far, we’ve held two such workshops – one for the Coral Triangle Initiative countries, which was organized at their request thanks to their enthusiasm for our Rapid Assessment Toolkit and the MPA Guide for Sharks and Rays, and the other for Sabah Parks management authorities in Malaysia.

Shark and Ray MPA Virtual Workshop for Sabah Parks Malaysia c WWF MalaysiaVirtual shark and ray MPA workshop for Sabah Parks, Malaysia © WWF-Malaysia / Sabah Parks

Building capacity where it is most needed is key to making MPAs more effective for sharks and rays. The authorities from the participating countries should now feel more empowered to feed all the new knowledge and skills into protecting these animals back at home and regionally. Next stop for us? We are already planning another deep dive in one of our priority countries in South America.

Supporting National and Regional Conservation Plans

Launch of Papua New Guineas new National Plan of Action on Sharks and Rays 2021 2024 WWF Pacific Rebecca SamuelLaunch of Papua New Guinea’s new National Plan of Action on Sharks and Rays 2021-2024 © WWF-Pacific / Rebecca Samuel 

In 2020-2021, we supported governments of seven different countries to produce or update their National Plans of Action for Sharks (NPOA-Sharks) - documents outlining each country's plans for conserving and managing shark and ray populations in their waters. In Fiji, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands, we helped authorities to produce their first-ever NPOA-Sharks, while in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mexico, we assisted with updating and improving the existing plans. We are particularly excited to share that Papua New Guinea - home to 132 different shark and ray species - has already released their first NPOA, which we supported! In addition to all this national level work, we are also assisting authorities to develop plans at the regional level – our teams in the Coral Triangle countries have been helping with preparations to formulate a regional action plan there. 

Making Trade More Responsible Thanks to 3D Printed Fins

 3D scan of shortfin mako sharks dorsal fin c TRAFFIC3D scan of shortfin mako shark’s dorsal fin © TRAFFIC

Our partner TRAFFIC released the world’s first-ever 3D-printed replica shark fins to assist customs and enforcement officials globally to combat the trafficking in shark fins, especially from CITES-listed species the trade in which should be closely controlled. While distinguishing protected shark or ray species purely from their fins is a challenging task, these 3D printed fins provide an easy-to-use identification tool to help officials better inspect, identify and seize illegal fins.

Final 3D shark fins displayed ahead of a training event for customs officials in Cape Town South Africa c TRAFFICFinal 3D shark fins displayed ahead of a training event for customs officials in Cape Town, South Africa © TRAFFIC 

An Important Mission

With over a decade of shark and ray conservation experience and teams in over 25 countries and territories, this is just a snapshot of our 2020-2021 work to protect these amazing creatures. Thank you for making it possible!

While so many sharks and rays are on the brink of extinction, the good news is that the solutions to stop this crisis largely exist! We know what needs to be done and we have the expertise to do it. The missing piece of the puzzle? Enough resources to be able to act fast, do more of what is already working, and reach places where such a change is most needed.

Together, we can reverse the global shark and ray crisis.

Join us on this important mission!



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© Opeti Vateitei / WWF-Pacific
© Opeti Vateitei / WWF-Pacific

Fiji's Dreketi River & Estuary Shark and Ray Survey report launched

Added to Press Releases on 09 June 2021

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Added to Updates on 13 May 2021

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Scalloped hammerhead shark caught in a net © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF
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Added to Blogs on 13 May 2021

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Two iconic shark species — oceanic whitetip and scalloped hammerhead — as well as many other sharks and rays inhabiting the open ocean are being pushed toward extinction. Main threat? Overfishing. How did we get here and what can be done to save them?

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Portugal must be a European leader in the protection of sharks and rays

Added to Press Releases on 08 April 2021

(8 April 2021) Portugal is in 3rd place among the European countries that capture the most sharks and rays, behind Spain and France, with almost half of its species under threat. ANP|WWF urges the Portuguese government to create a National Action Plan for the management and conservation of sharks and rays, which would place Portugal in the European leadership for the protection of these species.

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Congo fishermen turn to sharks, but massive over capacity of fishing fleets puts local food security, livelihoods and shark populations at risk

Congo fishermen turn to sharks, but massive over capacity of fishing fleets puts local food security, livelihoods and shark populations at risk

Added to Press Releases on 17 August 2020

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A deep-dive into shark and ray MPAs helps protect the species in Malaysia

Added to Updates on 20 July 2021

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Virtual shark and ray MPA workshop held for the Coral Triangle

Added to Updates on 05 April 2021

As part of the pre-workshops leading up to the 3rd National Sharks and Rays Symposium of Indonesia held in April this year, WWF conducted a virtual training and workshop session focused on marine protected areas (MPAs) for sharks and rays in collaboration with the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF).

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A visual representation of the 3D scan of a shortfin mako shark dorsal fin © TRAFFIC
A visual representation of the 3D scan of a shortfin mako shark dorsal fin © TRAFFIC

TRAFFIC bites back at illegal wildlife traders with the world’s first-ever 3D-printed replica shark fins

Added to Press Releases on 04 May 2021

Frontline law enforcement officials can now harness pioneering technology to combat the trafficking in shark fins; an illegal trade accelerating shark population declines globally.

See TRAFFIC press release

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