East Africa: Seychelles' Aldabra Atoll Officially Designated As Important Shark and Ray Area

Aldabra Atoll has officially been designated as an Important Shark and Ray Area (ISRA) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission shark specialist group.

According to the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) in a recent press statement, the designation has been awarded to Aldabra as it contains specific marine habitats that are deemed critical for the survival and well-being of sharks, rays, and chimaeras - which are soft-bodied, cartilaginous fish.

SIF said it submitted the nomination of Aldabra, one of Seychelles UNESCO World Heritage sites, in August 2023, to be evaluated in an ISRA workshop in Durban, South Africa last September, which focused on the western Indian Ocean region. The submission then underwent a peer review by an independent review panel before it was validated.

ISRA designations are based on scientific criteria that consider factors such as the species' range restriction. It is also based on their status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the importance of the habitat for various life stages of sharks and the special attributes of the habitat in terms of distinctiveness and diversity.

The majority of available evidence from Aldabra came from opportunistic sighting records and photos and videos collected over many years by Aldabra staff, volunteers and visiting researchers, highlighting the value of rigorously recording opportunistic sightings.

The chief executive of SIF, Dr Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, said "this designation helps SIF to re-focus on one of the most threatened group of animals on reefs' with 60 percent of coral reef shark and ray species globally being at risk of going extinct. Since the submission of the nomination over 500 additional opportunistic sightings have already been made on Aldabra, and this time the exact locations have been recorded too."

Sharks, rays and chimaeras belong to the most threatened marine taxon and more than a third of shark species are threatened with extinction due to impacts from fisheries, habitat loss, and climate change.

Aldabra Atoll was designated for six species, namely the blacktip reef shark, tawny nurse shark, sharptooth lemon shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, spotted eagle ray, and reef manta ray. The species fulfilled the criteria of being considered threatened on the IUCN Red List, and being found in a marine habitat that is important for their reproduction and feeding.

Dr Rima Jabado, deputy chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and chair of the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group, said "Sharks and rays play a key role in supporting the health of marine ecosystems. ISRAs are now providing a critical tool to support the conservation of these species by consolidating the most up-to-date scientific data from regional experts, but also from citizen scientists, that can really allow policymakers to take action and safeguard remnant populations."

With the designation, Aldabra joined a select group of globally recognised areas crucial for biodiversity and this will serve as a catalyst for heightened awareness and action and urge policymakers and stakeholders to prioritise conservation efforts and ensure long-term protection.

Aldabra is now one of nine ISRAs in Seychelles and the others are Alphonse Atoll, Baie Laraie at Curieuse Island, Bay Ternay at Mahe Island, Conception Island, D'Arros and St. Joseph Atoll, La Passe at Silhouette Island, Saint François Atoll and the Seychelles Inner Islands.

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