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Humanising Marine Conservation - Sharing Our Love for Sharks and Rays at the Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative Showcase

By Serena Adam (Marine Conservation Officer, Shark) and Marina Aman Sham (Communicator, Short-Term Contract), Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia

Unless you’re a marine life enthusiast, it’s likely that in terms of species identification, sharks and rays are lumped together as just that: sharks and rays. Can you tell the difference between a Smooth hammerhead and Great hammerhead (shark) at first glance?

WWF-Malaysia was amongst like-minded friends from the Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative (SSRI) who spent a weekend in June with a key goal in mind: to share our passion and love for sharks and rays (and all marine life, for that matter) with those who walked through the Tanjung Aru Marine Ecosystem (TAME) centre’s doors, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We welcomed school students from both local and international schools, alongside many others, who we hope gained much knowledge and had a lot of fun!

While launching the event, Humanising Marine Conservation - SSRI Showcase, Kota Kinabalu Mayor Datuk Noorliza Awang Alip shared words of encouragement by noting how important it is to carry out events that educate the public about our marine life and the crucial reasons why we need to conserve it. Thank you, Datuk, for spending time with us on a Saturday morning to support marine conservation efforts in Sabah.

(Left) Introducing the Baited Remote Underwater Video, the platform used to monitor the presence of sharks and rays in our waters, to the Mayor. (right) We share a common love for our underwater species!
Photos: © LEAP Spiral

Over two and a half days, WWF-Malaysia, Marine Research Foundation (MRF), Malaysia Ocean Youth Ambassadors (MOYA), Sabah Wildlife Department and TRACC Borneo set up interactive and engaging booths to share information about sharks and rays. 

At the WWF-Malaysia booth, our team of energetic researchers introduced the science behind shark and ray conservation as part of the SSRI Showcase. Visitors of all ages tried their hands at identifying and classifying the species found in our waters, and learned how we can monitor species underwater through an interactive quiz.

WWF-Malaysia’s booth comprised three parts: Taxonomy, Genetics and Baited Remote Underwater Video Survey.
Photos: © Marina Aman Sham/WWF-Malaysia

They also discovered what scientists look for when they carry out market research, and how the information collected contributes towards decisions that will affect how our marine life is protected.

At fish landing sites in Kudat, researchers document information on the species caught by small-scale and commercial fishers. Understanding what ends up in the nets of our fishers, be it intentional or accidental, feeds into recommendations on how to reduce bycatch.
Photos: © LEAP Spiral

It was truly motivating to see the level of interest shown, many took their time to engage deeply with us–and our fellow exhibitors–to learn about the plight of sharks and rays in Sabah. One interesting question we were asked was “Why aren’t all sharks and rays protected?”. Good one.

As of 2016, Malaysia recorded at least 70 species of sharks and 85 species of rays. Disturbingly, 22 and 41 of these (species of sharks and rays respectively) are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List. Till today, only 10 species are protected in Malaysia - Whale shark, Smooth hammerhead shark, Reef manta, Giant oceanic manta, Oceanic whitetip shark, Great hammerhead shark, 3 Sawfishes species and Winghead shark.
Illustrator: © Juariah.H

In line with the interactive nature of the event, environmental games were available to play all day, such as a snakes and ladders alternative that uses fish and hooks, a board game developed as part of the Environmental Education Module and Board Games on Marine Environment for Communities in Sabah (EEMBO), and Reef Stakes - a role playing card game focused on introducing local marine environmental issues. A hit amongst the littlest kiddies was making art out of trash!

Photos: (left/middle) © Marina Aman Sham/WWF-Malaysia, (right) © Melissa Leong / MOYA

During the showcase, SSRI also carried out panel discussions to dig deeper into marine conservation issues in Sabah, touching on the topics of bycatch, Marine Protected Areas and public advocacy in conservation. Panellists include representatives from Sabah Biodiversity Centre (SaBC), Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu Fishing Boat Association, WWF-Malaysia, MRF, LEAP Spiral, MOYA and TAME. If you missed any of the panel discussions, fret not, the recordings are all available in the links below:
Out of sight, out of mind?, the case for marine bycatch
Are MPAs living up to what they're supposed to?
Advocacy in conservation through various mediums

Photos: © Marina Aman Sham/WWF-Malaysia

You can also read about the discussion on bycatch in this news article: Collective suggestions essential for holistic National Fisheries Management Plan.

In addition to the panel discussions, two dedicated sessions were scheduled to share insights on projects being carried out by WWF-Malaysia and MRF in Sabah, funded by the Shark Conservation Fund. During her presentation, Kooi Chee from MRF explained how installing cameras on fishing boats allows them to document bycatch hotspots and species throughout Sabah. Our very own Serena, on the other hand, demonstrated how deploying cameras underwater helps researchers monitor species in Tun Mustapha Park and provide an effective management plan for threatened shark and ray species in a multi-use area. She also stressed how important it is to work with traditional fishers to reduce bycatch in the long-term.

Kooi Chee (left) and Serena (right) representing their organisations to share their work on addressing shark and ray conservation in Sabah.
Photos: © LEAP Spiral

It was an activity-filled weekend, for sure. What impact did we have? Quoting Richard Louv, “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. And touch. And hear.” 

This weekend was about strengthening love.

From the WWF-Malaysia team, see you next time!
Photo: © Kooi Chee / Marine Research Foundation

Background of the SSRI Showcase
The SSRI Showcase — coordinated by LEAP Spiral and in collaboration with Marine Research Foundation (MRF), WWF-Malaysia, Scuba Junkie SEAS, and the Sabah Shark Protection Association with financial support from the Shark Conservation Fund — aims to bring public awareness to SSRI’s work and goals to address bycatch in commercial and small-scale fisheries, improve marine protected area effectiveness, assess the feasibility of locally managed marine areas, engage with law and policy, and conduct outreach.


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