A conservation coalition consisting of WCS, WWF, Elasmo Project, and James Cook University have launched the Shark and Ray Recovery Initiative (SARRI) as a global response to bring sharks and rays back from the brink.

SARRI will aim to recover at least eight populations of some of the most threatened shark and ray species in their last remaining global strongholds by 2030.

Working closely with coastal communities, local partners, and experts, SARRI will introduce comprehensive recovery plans, which will include securing “shark recovery zones” to protect critical habitats of the most threatened species. These will be enhanced by other management measures tailored for each location and species, such as methods to reduce bycatch (“bycatch mitigation measures”) in the surrounding areas.

By testing and constantly improving the recovery approach in the field, SARRI will create a blueprint for recovering threatened sharks and rays around the world.

To have an impact on a global scale, SARRI has been designed from the outset to trigger a much broader wave of recovery efforts beyond the Initiative itself. By 2033, the hope is that SARRI and collaborators have started to recover at least 15 more populations through a ripple-effect.

The Initiative has been designed to inspire and build expertise to catalyse these broader, organic recovery efforts. SARRI will be providing a set of scalable solutions that could be rapidly deployed in multiple places for multiple species. The Initiative will also provide open access to its know-how, recovery tools, as well as free training for experts and practitioners interested in recovering sharks and rays.

Coastal communities who live near future recovery zones will be part of the recovery mission every step of the way to help ensure SARRI’s recovery efforts are sustainable in the long term. As crucial custodians of the oceans and marine resources, SARRI will seek free prior, informed consent from communities at each project site before any conservation work can commence. Understanding community needs, SARRI will not only ensure the communities are involved in the project from the beginning but also that they co-design benefits linked to recovery efforts, which will be critical for every recovery zone.

SARRI has been developed in response to a growing shark and ray extinction crisis. As of today, 37% of all 1,200+ shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species TM. Alarmingly, this includes over 200 species that are Critically Endangered or Endangered with global populations of some species having declined by over 75%. These declines are driven by overfishing, which is fueled by the continuing demand for shark and ray products (especially meat and fins) for consumption and trade.

Past successful recoveries and population increases achieved by others – such as the smalltooth sawfish recovery in Florida, USA as well as the return of sharks and rays in Tubbataha, the Philippines, Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, or Misool, Indonesia – prove that local population declines of sharks and rays can be reversed. We need to apply, adapt, and scale lessons from these successes in places where some of the rarest species can still be found in reasonable numbers and where support is needed most.

Having evolved on our planet long before the dinosaurs, sharks and rays are indispensable to ocean health and the well-being of millions of people across the globe. Inhabiting our global ocean, from the warm shallows of coral reef lagoons to the cold depths of the high seas, the ecological roles sharks and rays play are as diverse as the 1,200 species in this group. From helping us buffer climate change, to supporting the productivity of marine food webs, to creating tourism opportunities for coastal communities, to engineering micro-habitats for other marine creatures, these are just some of the benefits sharks and rays bring to people and nature.

“We will be identifying the most important spatial measures that have been put in place for sharks and rays today, anywhere in the world. We will find populations of some of the most threatened shark and ray species that can be recovered during this initiative's lifetime,” said Luke Warwick, SARRI Founder as well as Director of Shark and Ray Conservation, WCS. “If we don't get this right, we could lose sharks and rays in the coming decades. They're too vulnerable, they’re disappearing too quickly, and they need large protected areas with effective management now,” concluded Warwick.

“To really make a difference, we have to shift our focus from trying to maintain the status quo by conserving what is still left to recovering shark and ray species and restoring their populations to their former glory so that once again they could be maintaining a healthy balance in our oceans and fulfilling their ecological functions,” said Dr. Andy Cornish, SARRI Founder and Leader of WWF Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme.

“We are at a critical point when it comes to the conservation of sharks and rays. We know that management measures can work and support the recovery of species. With SARRI, we can apply this knowledge to focus on threatened species that need the most attention and ensure context specific solutions can be applied in specific areas with the support of local communities and stakeholders,” said Dr. Rima Jabado, SARRI Founder and Technical Advisor as well as Founder of Elasmo Project and Chair of IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group.

“By putting in special protections from fishing, we can actually start to recover populations. SARRI is not only going to protect where populations of some of the most threatened shark and ray species live, but also make sure that the conditions are right in the areas around them to enable these populations to grow,” said Prof. Colin Simpfendorfer, SARRI Founder and Technical Advisor as well as Adjunct Professor, James Cook University. He added: “SARRI is an initiative that not only the sharks and rays can benefit from but also the people that use the ocean as well.”

Visit sarri.org to learn more about the Shark and Ray Recovery Initiative and discover how experts and practitioners can partner with SARRI.

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About WWF:

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in nearly 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Founded in 2014, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme “Sharks: Restoring the Balance” supports conservation teams working in over 20 countries and territories across 6 continents and focuses on fisheries management, trade, and consumption.

About Elasmo Project:

The Elasmo Project  is a non-profit initiative based in the United Arab Emirates. Its mission is to advance research, education, and conservation of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). It began in 2010 as part of a PhD project aimed at gaining a better understanding of shark and ray species’ abundance and distribution in the Arabian Sea and adjacent waters (specifically in the Arabian/Persian Gulf waters of the United Arab Emirates). The project has since grown exponentially, expanding to include more than 14 projects across eight countries. All these projects have components focused on understanding fisheries from the viewpoint of fishers, collecting both fishery dependent and independent data, and working with governments and fisheries stakeholders to inform policy at national, regional, and international levels. All current projects are led by local students or early career scientists to ensure capacity building and knowledge transfer.

About James Cook University (Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture):

Research within James Cook University’s Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture (CSTFA) focuses not only on the aquatic and aquaculture systems that produce food, but also the industries and communities that utilize them. Multidisciplinary collaborations between our researchers provide the synergies to address substantial research problems in a way that individual research groups cannot. CSTFA provides research outputs for sustainable food production to local, state, federal and international resource managers, both in government and in the private sector - thus, making us a key player in helping secure aquatic food production in the tropics for future generations.