A community science project to manage sharks and rays in Liberia is building on its success to expand from Monrovia and Robertsport to new locations in Buchanan, Harper and Marshall. The project, a collaboration between the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), will train local people to gather key information on Liberia's shark and ray populations, and give citizens the opportunity to feed into plans to improve fisheries sustainability.
Sharks and rays play a vital role in the health of many marine habitats. Loss of sharks, for instance, can lead to dramatic imbalances in the ecosystem that can cause the degradation of coral reefs and destruction of seagrass beds, both of which provide important nursery habitats for young fish. This is particularly important in Liberia, where 33,000 people rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods, and 65% of all animal protein eaten comes from seafood.
Unfortunately, sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they tend to grow slowly, reach sexual maturity late and have low rates of reproduction. In Liberia, although routinely fished, they currently lack any form of legal protection. This could have real implications for the coastal communities that rely on healthy marine ecosystems to provide food.
Amdeep Sanghera, EJF's coordinator for the project, says: "We do not know if sharks and rays in Liberia are in trouble. There is very little information on how their populations are doing, and in some cases none at all. There is an urgent need to gather the crucial data that can support sustainable management. This is why we are excited to work with the Liberian government's NaFAA and fishing communities in trying to secure a brighter future for sharks and rays."
Since 2013, EJF has been working to identify and measure the sharks and rays being landed at West Point and in Robertsport. Building on that success, the project is being expanded to new locations Buchanan, Harper and Marshall.
Emma M. Glassco, Director General of NaFAA, says: "Sharks and rays are important for the health of the marine ecosystems that support local fishing communities. With a new government in place in Liberia we have the chance to make a fresh start, taking an ecosystem approach that provides the best possible solution for both local people and marine wildlife."
This is a long-term, participatory project, where citizens will have the opportunity to feed into management measures to ensure they reflect their needs as well as the needs of sharks and rays.
Sharks and Rays are in one of two sub-classes of cartilaginous fish, they are in the sub-class Elasmobranchii which currently contains around 1,000 species which can be further classified into around 400 species of sharks and 600 species of rays.
Sharks first appeared in the fossil record over 400 million years ago, nearly 300 million years before the dinosaurs. They occupy almost every marine ecosystem on earth and some can survive in freshwater, although no species lives there exclusively.