The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG) pictures a world in which sharks and rays are valued and managed for sustainability.
Its members conduct IUCN Red List assessments, contribute to conservation strategies and policies, identify research needs, and communicate to a range of audiences. In January 2014, the SSG published the first systematic, global assessment of shark status and conservation (including extinction-risk across 1041 species) to help guide responses to the issue of shark declines.
Several NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub scientists participated in the SSG, including as the Co-Chair of Taxonomy and the Regional Vice-Chair for Australia and Oceania, thereby continuing more than a decade of involvement in the extinction risk study. Hub members also contributed to the global conservation strategy for sawfishes.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Categories and Criteria was applied to assess extinction risk. Thirteen workshops were held worldwide (over the full period of the study) with the first in Queensland in 2003. Many Red List assessments for sharks and rays were authored or co-authored, and contributions were made to a global conservation strategy for sawfishes.
The study found that, globally, 17.4% of all chondrichthyans were threatened with extinction and 46.8% were Data Deficient (insufficient information available to accurately assess status). Taking into account the possible status of Data Deficient species, 23.9% of all chondrichthyans were predicted to be threatened with extinction: higher than for birds, and comparable to mammals. In Australia, 15.6% of chondrichthyans were threatened with extinction and 23.3% were Data Deficient.
The sawfishes were arguably the most threatened family of marine fishes globally, with all five species globally Critically Endangered or Endangered. Northern Australia is a remaining population stronghold for the four species occurring in the Indo-Pacific.
New knowledge and opportunities
Many Australian chondrichthyan species are due for reassessment (species should be reassessed every 10 years). In collaboration with a James Cook University project (funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation) to review the status of Australia’s sharks, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group participated in an assessment workshop held in Townsville in February 2015 to reassess the status of all Australian sharks and rays for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Australia’s shark experts, including several Marine Biodiversity Hub researchers, undertook updated assessments for all 325 chondrichthyans (sharks, rays and chimaeras) occurring in Australian waters, with these to be published on the IUCN Red List later in 2015.
Involvement with the IUCN process ‘provides an opportunity to complement species status assessments and recovery planning under Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and state legislation.
The high level of data deficiency reinforces the need for more research that will reduce uncertainty to acceptable levels and promote a better understanding of the status and sustainability of chondrichthyans in Australia.
Outputs and outcomes
Additional scientific papers were published on topics including the global extinction risk and conservation of sawfishes, and the conservation status of North American, Central American and Caribbean chondrichthyans.
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