June 15th, 2018
Ulster Wildlife has launched a new project to help conserve endangered sharks in waters off the Northern Irish coast.
The Sea Deep project will see volunteers trained and equipped to tag sharks, hunt for their egg cases onshore and help identify spawning and nursery grounds.
The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, launched their first tagging trip on 10 June and successfully tagged a male Common Skate.
The Common Skate, which can live for up to 100 years, was once abundant in Northern Irish seas. Today, however, the species is more endangered than the snow leopard or African Elephant.
Over 50 per cent of biodiversity in Northern Ireland is found in the sea, and three species – the Basking Shark, the Common Skate and the Angel Shark- are currently protected by the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order signed into law in 1985.
Yet, the majority of the 20 shark, skate and ray species in the region are in severe decline and have been named as threatened, endangered or critically endangered.
More records on their presence and movement are needed to be able to implement management measures that will help them to recover, according to Ulster Wildlife.
Humans have played a huge role in the depletion of these species, the conservation group said, with underwater cables, pollution from land run-off, fishing grounds and shipping canals all causing the decline.
According to the coordinator of the project, Rebecca Hunter, it is important to get local people involved in the project from “spreading the word” to taking part in events over the summer.
The next free event will be tag training on 21 July in Belfast. Ms Hunter told The Green News that training will include handling techniques as well as the use of tagging equipment, correct tag placement and how to record and submit data.
Ms Hunter said that sharks, skates and rays are some of the “most vulnerable animals in our seas” and must be protected due as they are slow to mature and have a low reproductive rate.
“We need to act now to ensure these amazing animals are not lost from our seas forever,” she warned. “As top predators, sharks and rays also play an important role in balancing marine food webs and maintaining the health and productivity of our wider seas.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a Red List of cartilaginous fish (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras) across all of the island of Ireland last year.
The assessment found that six of the 58 species evaluated – Portuguese dogfish, the common (blue) skate, the Flapper Skate, the Porbeagle Shark, the White Skate and the Angel shark – were critically endangered.