Shark Week 2020
Ocean Guardians Pave the Way to Save Threatened Sharks and Rays in Bangladesh
By Jamia Rahman Khan & Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur | August 11, 2020
[Note: this is the third in a series of commentaries by researchers with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) during Shark Week documenting challenges and successes in shark and ray conservation today.]
Nearly a hundred species of sharks and rays have been confirmed in Bangladesh, including rare sawfish and river sharks, charismatic manta rays, ginormous whale sharks, and odd-looking hammerheads. Growing interest plus improved conservation skills and technology are improving our knowledge at an impressive rate.
Bangladesh offers ideal habitats for these soft-boned fish that mature and reproduce very slowly, and we are just beginning to uncover their rich diversity. Unfortunately, two thirds of all species found in Bangladesh are likely to disappear unless we provide better protection.
Improving knowledge about and compliance with fisheries regulations aiming to protect threatened marine wildlife among artisanal fishers in coastal waters of Bangladesh requires long-term equitable collaborations.
The Government of Bangladesh is committed to protecting threatened sharks and rays and has co-sponsored proposals for improved trade regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
Two marine protected areas (MPAs) that protect priority habitat for threatened sharks and rays have been established and plans for adapting a spatial monitoring and reporting tool (SMART) to combat illegal fisheries are advancing.
Yet improved laws and enforcement will only be effective if they benefit fishers and their communities. “We need sharks and rays for a healthy ocean and healthy people, and sharks and rays need people who care about them,” says Nadim Parves, who coordinates the Education Outreach Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Bangladesh.
Explaining how healthy and diverse shark and ray populations are more beneficial than dead ones is an important first step. Without effective protection for threatened sharks and rays, which play a crucial role in maintaining healthy fish stocks and productive ecosystems, fish stocks will decline with potentially damaging effects for Bangladesh. Fishers are aware of declines in economically valuable fish and the majority favor strict regulations as long as they are equitably enforced.
Through the Ocean Guardians initiative, WCS is working with community and government partners to strengthen constituencies for conserving sharks and rays. A traveling exhibition links sharks and rays with the concept of a healthy ocean for healthy people. Local people learn about the sharks and rays protected by Bangladesh’s Wildlife Act and international agreements using fun games, life-size models, and attractive information panels that highlight their features.
Ocean Guardians are paving the way to save threatened sharks and rays through improved knowledge and positive action.
A program called Ocean Guardians has been produced in collaboration with six coastal community radio stations. Four episodes, presented in local dialects, incorporated statements from government officials about laws and rules related to the exploitation and trade in sharks and rays, doctors debunking local myths about their medicinal properties, marine biologists explaining their ecological value, and inspiring accounts of fishermen who successfully released live marine turtles and dolphins from their nets.
Based on several thousand comments received, many from local fishermen, local radio producer Mohsena Mina believes that most fishers catch marine wildlife unintentionally. She observes that “if we can effectively communicate the value of these animals, fishers can become Ocean Guardians.”
Ocean Guardians are paving the way to save threatened sharks and rays through improved knowledge and positive action. Collaborative efforts such as these demonstrate a strong potential to reverse population declines by engaging local communities in their protection. Our discoveries are significant but we must also share this new knowledge to inspire and empower ocean stewardship.
Jamia Rahman Khan is the Education Outreach Program Officer for WCS Bangladesh; Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur is the Senior Manager of the Marine Conservation Program for WCS Bangladesh.
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Read the other pieces in this WCS series for Shark Week here: