13. Jan, 2019

DIVING WITH SHARKS IN THE UAE

Resume of the feature article from Fernando Reis with photography by Philippe Lecomte published on the Magazine of the Emirates Diving Association, December 2018.



DIVING WITH SHARKS IN THE UAE 

Yes! We can dive with sharks in UAE waters. Both in the Indian Ocean and in the Arabian Gulf.This may seem surprising for many divers that are used to travelling quite far away to find interesting propositions for shark diving, but the fact is that we can easily learn a lot about sharks if we try shark diving with some very particular species found in the Arabian Sea. I have had some recent experiences with Blacktip Reef Sharks on the East Coast of the UAE, and with Bamboo Shark species in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Shark Diving is probably one of the best conservation tools we can experience in marine education! 

THE ACTUAL SHARKS’ STATUS 

Fishing pressure on sharks has been increasing. Thanks to interviews with fishermen, the geographical extent, gear characteristics, sizes, and target of the species is known. Results collected by the preparation team of the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, showed that the fishery was highly opportunistic and varied considerably in fishing behaviours. The existence of a targeted shark fishery fuelled by the shark fin trade, and the high levels of bycatch recorded, indicate that this fishery is likely to have a substantial impact on shark populations locally. In fact, fishermen confirmed that the status of sharks had changed in recent years and that they were witnessing noticeable declines in catches, abundance and average sizes of sharks in UAE Arabian Gulf waters. 

THE NATIONAL PLAN OF ACTION 

The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment published a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPACMS). Following the cultural heritage legacy from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who worked in consideration for the protection of the environment in the UAE, this nation is actually signatory to a number of regional and international agreements, including the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on International Trade of Endangered Fauna & Flora (CITES), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and the Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME). 

THE ACTUAL SHARKS’ STATUS 

Fishing pressure on sharks has been increasing. Thanks to interviews with fishermen, the geographical extent, gear characteristics, sizes, and target of the species is known. Results collected by the preparation team of the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, showed that the fishery was highly opportunistic and varied considerably in fishing behaviours.

THE THREATS 

Sharks of shallow water habitats (like the Bamboo Sharks), on the coast and in the open ocean, are the most seriously threatened. Sharks longer than one metre (such as Blacktip Reef Sharks) have 50% more chance of being threatened. 

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL PLAN MISSING? 

As it happens with any plan of action, without previously defined quality measurement indicators, these objectives could risk becoming transformed no matter how good the intentions. It is understandable, despite this set of measures, that shark and batoid awareness is absolutely necessary to x quantified objectives for each specific indicator with the overall time period specified. Measuring those indicators in the beginning of the implementation period of the plan and to x quantified objectives to the end of the plan’s period is fundamental. 

WHY ARE SHARKS SO IMPORTANT? 

As it is known from science, the large majority of fish species that have evolved in the oceans over the last 450 million years, have been shaped by their predators, the sharks. In evolution, the most probable is that sharks are responsible for giving rise to camouflage, speed, fish sizes, schooling behaviour and underwater communication. 

THE SHARKS’ VALUE 

Numerous case studies around the world have demonstrated the economic value of the sustainable shark diving ecotourism. There is no doubt nowadays, that a living shark is much more pro table on long term than a dead shark once shed. In UAE, the Marine Reserves around Dibba Rock and Snoopy Island, in Fujairah, are starting to become evident of that too.We deeply believe the new National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks is a very positive step in the right direction. Let’s hope it can also be managed in a transparent way, with quantified quality indicators and planned established targets.