On the brink: save South Africa’s sharks and rays from extinction

Posted by Ilhaam Hoosain on 28 June 2022

Conservation NPO Wildtrust has launched On The Brink, a three-year marine campaign to focus on expanding marine protected areas with a view to safeguarding sharks and rays and other chondrichthyan fish.

Picture: Flickr Isabel Sommerfeld

Picture: Flickr Isabel Sommerfeld

Sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras are all in the class chondrichthyes; all call South African waters home. They are threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Puffadder shyshark and twineyed skate are just two of the 29 species endemic to South Africa that are listed as endangered.

‘This project is a result of many years of collaboration, research and partnerships in marine conservation. New data is telling us that of almost 90 of some 200 shark and ray species found in South Africa’s oceans, only 28% of their range is currently protected within Marine Protected Areas (5% of our mainland waters). The expansion of 5% to 10% of our ocean in Marine Protected Areas will potentially almost double their protection – protecting up to 50% of their range,’ said Dr Jean Harris, executive director of the Wildoceans programme at Wildtrust.

The aim of the national campaign is to support new sanctuaries in South Africa’s oceans. Protection of sharks and rays needs to be expanded or they face extinction.

‘We are very proud of everyone who came on board to collaborate on this plan. It shows everything we have done to change our fisheries and how to improve things. It has a comprehensive roadmap which details how we can conserve our chondrichthyes in South Africa, from research to management and monitoring. It also has a comprehensive review of the sharks that are caught in our various fisheries and highlights what we have done to reduce shark catches … by 50%,’ said Charlene da Silva, production scientist in fisheries research and development in the National Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Picture: Flickr Benny Ang

Picture: Flickr Benny Ang

Sharks and rays are among the most endangered species on the planet. A third of the world’s shark and ray species are threatened, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in 2021. The largetooth sawfish and green sawfish are already believed to be locally extinct in South Africa.

‘This is the precipice that On The Brink aims to highlight. Negative space allows one to see something that is both there and not there at the same time and this duality defines the message of the campaign. A world without sharks and rays could be the reality for future generations, and its impact runs far deeper than what the general public might assume,’ said Lauren van Nijkerk, Wildtrust’s campaign and communications director.

The biggest threat to sharks and rays is overfishing. About 100 million sharks are killed every year, often for shark fin soup. Expanding and protecting sanctuaries for sharks and rays is critical for ocean health.


More than one third of all shark and ray species face extinction

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