Sharks, rays and chimaera have been swimming in our oceans for over 400 million years and there are now over 1,100 known species. Today, the existence of many of these weird and wonderful species is threatened by overfishing as well as habitat degradation due to coastal development, pollution and climate change. It is estimated that at least 33 million sharks are killed each year both in targeted fisheries, and as bycatch, to support the demand for shark fin soup, with many being 'finned' and returned to the ocean while still alive. Many more are killed for their meat, skin, teeth and livers. Many sharks and rays are apex predators and their rapid removal is predicted to impact entire ecosystems. According to the IUCN Red List, almost half of all sharks, rays and chimaeras are classed as 'Data Deficient' with one third of the remaining species currently threatened with extinction. The combination of lack of knowledge, poor management and high fisheries mortality increases the potential loss of phylogenetic diversity and evolutionary history.
The vision of EDGE Sharks is to secure the protection of the most endangered sharks, ray and chimaeras that are evolutionarily distinct. By this we mean those that have very few close genetic relatives and exhibit this in unusual appearance and behaviour. This goal is being achieved by developing a conservation programme that will identify, promote and protect the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered shark, ray and chimaera species. These threatened species represent a disproportionally large amount of unique evolutionary history and if they are lost there will be nothing like them left in the world.
Like the preceding EDGE Mammals, EDGE Amphibians and EDGE Corals projects, EDGE Sharks will raise awareness of sharks, rays and chimaeras, increase international conservation capacity and establish collaborations with other conservation and fisheries management organisations to initiate sustainable conservation strategies.
The aims of the first phase of EDGE Sharks are:
The second phase of EDGE Sharks will initiate targeted conservation projects for the 10 focal species that address key issues and complement wider-scale initiatives aimed at addressing threats to marine life. These will be carried out by in country conservationists: EDGE Fellows.
The EDGE Sharks programme is still in development but we will be providing progress updates here when they happen should you wish to follow our work. As ever, we are extremely grateful for your support, without which new programmes such as this would not be possible.
Photographs: Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch