Second phase of the shark and ray project in the Red Sea

11 February 2013

The Cousteau Society and its partners are returning to the field to achieve the second mission of the Red Sea Shark and Ray Conservation and Management project.

In the first four-weeks mission in late 2012, the scientific team, led by Nigel Hussey and Steven Kessel (University of Windsor – Canada) successfully tagged and released 22 manta rays (20 acoustic and 6 satellite tags), using for the first time ever in the world internal implantation of acoustic tags and dorsal fin attachments of satellite tags.

Beginning today, the field activities of this mission will be carried out for two weeks and will focus on key shark species in the region, grey reef and scalloped hammerhead sharks. Together with invited scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Nige and Steve will undertake state of the art research studies and a raft of new technologies will be employed in this unparalleled project including satellite and acoustic tags, underwater fixed camera to conduct video surveys and fish genetic sampling for food web work.

Tagged sharks will be followed through an acoustic monitor array established during the first mission on the offshore reefs along 130 km of coastline from Sanganeb Atoll Marine National Park to Abington Reef. Acoustic transmitters will provide date, time, depth and temperature 24hrs/day, 365 days/year when the animal is present at monitoring site. Satellite tags will allow the scientific team to track shark movements on a regional scale, providing detailed insights in to day-to-day depth and temperature profiles and genetic sampling will help to better understand species and population structure.

At the present time, it is extremely rare to hear reports that shark and ray populations in a given region are in good health. Sudan remains one of the unique global hotspots on earth where this statement holds true. But Sudan's shark and ray populations remain under threat from human impacts and could very quickly follow the way of other regional populations – from healthy to endangered in a matter of years. Their conservation and management is therefore of both a regional and a global priority. A prerequisite for effective management strategies is to establish a monitoring program to generate the baseline information, improve our understanding of their biology, and determine sites or regions of importance, which require protection. With the Shark and Ray Management program, Cousteau Society and its partners aims to address critical issues for managers and conservationists and translate the scientific findings into effective actions to ensure that the species observed today will also be seen by our future generations.

The multi-faceted project involves institutions such as the Red Sea University, the Wildlife Administration, the University of Windsor (Canada), the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and other local stakeholders creating an exchange of skills and competencies to forge sustainability management of marine resources. The Deep, a charitable aquarium organization dedicated to marine conservation cofounds the project.

For the first time, two members of the Cousteau Divers community will join the expedition team to observe and assist the scientific team. By participating in the expedition, they help the Cousteau Society to perform and fund this mission. This is a unique opportunity for Cousteau Divers only, to join a real scientific expedition, to learn about a marine ecosystem and its inhabitants and to contribute to the success of the expedition.