Endangered sharks released into the Arabian Gulf will boost vulnerable populations in a marine protected area near Dubai.
A two-year shark and ray breeding programme at Atlantis, The Palm led to the successful births of spotted eagle rays, honeycomb rays, Arabian carpet sharks, cowtail rays and porcupine rays.
The sharks are small and pose no threat to people but face extinction because of habitat destruction and overfishing around the world.
Juvenile sharks were released into protected areas around Jebel Ali and a 2,000-hectare wetland area near Ghantoot.
The Ghantoot Marine Reserve is a coastal and marine area comprising coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and sandy beaches. The Jebel Ali Wetland Sanctuary was recently added to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
The sharks were born at Atlantis, The Palm and cared for by a special aquarist team to maintain their habitat, and prepare and distribute their feed until they are about 8-10 months old.
The sharks are fed on a diet close to what they would find in the wild – squid, molluscs and crustaceans – and are commonly found sheltering inside caves and crevices.
During International Shark Week, biodiversity workshops are run by fisheries experts from the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Atlantis The Palm, and Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
“At Atlantis Dubai, we are committed to working together towards a common goal in order to advance all efforts to protect sharks in the UAE,” said Kelly Timmins, director of conservation, education, and CSR at Atlantis, The Palm.
“With animal welfare as our top priority, we will continue to work with local authorities on shark and ray breeding and release programmes.”
Public events aimed at ministry-licensed fishermen and recreational fishermen were run to educate them about the international conventions protecting sharks, facts about sharks and shark-related legislation in the UAE.
The events revealed global trends in the shark-fin trade, identification of protected sharks listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and UAE legislation, and the safe handling and release of sharks and rays.
According to the last scientific assessment conducted by the 2017 International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species, carpet sharks are classified as near threatened, with a declining population trend.
They are likely to qualify for the threatened category in the near future.
Analysts said of the 470 species of sharks, 2.4 per cent are critically endangered, 3.2 per cent are endangered, 10.3 per cent are vulnerable and 14.4 per cent are near threatened.
In recent decades, shark populations decreased by up to 90 per cent as a result of human interventions that kill them directly and indirectly through overfishing or pollution.