Global collaboration, StAR, to re-establish once abundant zebra sharks in Raja Ampat
November 30, 2022
SORONG, RAJA AMPAT, Indonesia (30 November, 2022) – Today, the StAR (Stegostoma tigrinum Augmentation and Recovery) project, a world-first rewilding project to reestablish healthy and resilient populations of zebra sharks within their known historic ranges, was launched in Raja Ampat.
“This StAR project is expected to have a domino effect. From an ecological perspective, the StAR Project is expected to increase the population of zebra sharks in West Papua waters, especially Raja Ampat, which will attract more tourists to see. Of course, this will have an impact on improving the economy of the people and regions involved in the tourism sector,” said the Acting Mayor of Sorong, George Yarangga, A.Pi., MM., who represented the Acting Governor of West Papua, Komjen Pol (Purn.) Drs. Paulus Waterpauw, M.Sc.
Present at the launch Ir. Pingkan Katharina Roeroe, M.Si, Coordinator of the Fish Species Protection and Preservation Group, Directorate of Conservation and Marine Biodiversity, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. Pingkan stated, “Government of Indonesia is very concerned about the existence of shark species, including the zebra shark and will continue to strengthen it from a policy perspective.”
Dr. Mark Erdmann, Vice President of Conservation International Asia-Pacific’s Marine Programs, noted: “StAR is the world’s first endangered shark rewilding program, and the first time that sharks bred in aquaria have been translocated internationally to support their recovery in the wild. We are thrilled to support our Indonesian partners in this significant international collaboration dedicated to bringing zebra sharks home and restoring a viable population for generations to come.”
Attended by government officials and StAR partners, including MPA managers, conservation organizations and academic institutions, the event was also well-received by local communities, who anticipate the program will generate local economic benefits due to the strong interest of the marine ecotourism sector in the charismatic zebra sharks.
"Local leadership and international collaboration are key. In less than three years, the global coalition has grown to over 70 partners in 13 countries,” said Dr. Erin Meyer, Chair of the StAR Project Steering Committee at the launch event. “Together through the StAR Project we are resharking the ocean, and we’ve only just begun—we will expand to other species, other regions because there are nearly 400 species of sharks and rays threatened with extinction.”
Based upon historical abundances of zebra sharks and assuming high survivorship, the project anticipates releasing 200-300 individuals to restore the Raja Ampat population to a self-sustaining level within six to 10 years. Raja Ampat was selected due to its globally acclaimed conservation success as SE Asia’s first shark and ray sanctuary, bolstered by a healthy and well-managed network of nine marine protected areas (MPAs).
Dr. Fahmi, Researcher from the Oceanography Research Center, BRIN, explained, “The StAR team has carefully sourced genetically appropriate, captive-bred shark eggs from our partner aquariums in strict accordance with IUCN guidelines for conservation translocations. The model of this world-first rewilding program is to then ship the eggs to custom-built hatcheries in Raja Ampat, where juveniles can be head-started. When the pups are deemed ready, they will be released into two strictly enforced no-take zones where they will be monitored closely to track their growth and movements.”
This was confirmed by Dr. Ing. Wiwiek Joelijani, MT from the Regional Research and Innovation Sector, the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) who was present at the launch, "BRIN really supports the development of science-based policies. What is being developed through this StAR project is an embodiment of that concept. From the results of research for conservation purposes, it is hoped that it will be able to maintain biodiversity and can further support tourism development which will lead to an increase in people's welfare. This is a science-based development policy model.”
Meanwhile, Senior Vice President & Executive Chair of Konservasi Indonesia, Meizani Irmadhiany, stated, “The recovery of one species categorized as endangered by the IUCN requires collaboration of multi-stakeholders, not only in the regional level, but also national and international as well. This is exactly what StAR Project is all about. Dead zebra sharks might be purchased for approximately 2 million IDR. But if we preserve its life, which may live up to 30 years, and utilize it for ecotourism, it can surely be worth way more than 2 million IDR.”
The launch event was followed by a site visit to the Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Centre (RARCC) where the first hatchery was built by the local community. The event’s attendees also had the opportunity to witness first-hand the three juvenile sharks that were hatched at RARCC in mid-September and due for release in early 2023.
"The StAR Project has made extraordinary achievements, through the successful delivery of zebra shark eggs to Raja Ampat," said Prof. Dr. Charlie D. Heatubun, S.Hut, M.Si, FLS Head of the Regional Research and Innovation Agency (BRIDA) of West Papua Province.
“Right now, the local aquarist for zebra sharks from the StAR Project is implementing an innovative process of grooming these young sharks so they are healthy and ready to be released into the healthy waters of Raja Ampat. This is just the beginning; the climax moment will be when we release these individual sharks back to their original home, and over time see this charismatic and beautiful species being able to survive independently, and its population recovering in Indonesia," said Prof. Heatubun.
Furthermore, the Head of BRIDA for West Papua Province stated the reason this project should be carried out in Raja Ampat, is because based on research results that in the past show the distribution of Zebra Sharks was very wide including in Raja Ampat waters, but in recent years through monitoring and evaluation, Zebra Sharks are very rare to be found again. "This is in contrast to the current status of Raja Ampat waters" which holds the title as a marine conservation area whose management is in the category of very good or even the best in the world. Therefore, this is a shared responsibility, especially for us as a government organization engaged in research and innovation, so it is our duty to encourage this project to be carried out properly.
"This project also shows the commitment of the Provincial Government of West Papua in carrying out sustainable development,” which is our common goal in creating a decent world to live in. Furthermore, Prof. Heatubun said that saving a part of the charismatic species which is also an icon in the waters of Raja Ampat is very important because the existence of this project is not only on the conservation and scientific side but will have a strong economic impact on the local community because this is certainly very closely related to the world of tourism, especially sustainable tourism.
"We, from the regional government, will of course lead this project together with existing partners such as Konservasi Indonesia and the Reshark Consortium, which is a combination of universities and research institutions that focus on shark conservation around the world," closed Prof. Heatubun.
Zebra sharks (Stegostoma tigrinum) are listed as EN endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Raja Ampat’s development of a network of nine well-enforced marine protected areas (MPAs) has allowed for the recovery of its reef shark populations over the past decade. Unfortunately, zebra sharks have shown no signs of population recovery in Raja Ampat during this time, likely because targeted hunting in the 1990s and early 2000s reduced the population to such an extent that there are insufficient numbers of breeding adults remaining to recover the population at this time. A Population Viability Analysis of the Raja Ampat zebra shark population, conducted in collaboration with the IUCN’s Conservation Planning Specialist Group, has suggested that conservation translocations to significantly augment zebra shark numbers are necessary to ensure recovery of this population within the next two decades.
This release is published in collaboration with West Papua Province and Regional Research and Innovation Agency of West Papua Province in Indonesia.
West Papua’s Research and Innovation Agency (previously named Research and Development Agency) is one of the province’s agencies established based on the West Papua’s Regulation No. 4 of the Year 2022 on the Second Amendment of Regulation No. 7 of the Year 2016 on Establishment and Structure of the Region’s Agencies. The said agency implements the government’s interests in research and development that covers research, development, assessment, implementation, and invention integral to the West Papua Province.
About the StAR Project: Led and supported by the West Papua Provincial Government, the StAR Project, powered by ReShark, aims to re-establish a healthy, resilient, and self-sustaining population of zebra sharks in its known historic range. The project was built upon global and national collaborations between multiple partners to ensure the recovery and protection of the zebra shark, with the best interest of benefiting the Indonesian people. Through expert consultation on the breeding success of zebra sharks in captivity, husbandry and care expertise from accredited aquariums, as well as extensive genetic testing, genetically appropriate broodstock from various international aquariums are now intentionally bred for the StAR Project. Learn more here: https://www.reshark.org/project-star
About ReShark: StAR project is coordinated and powered by ReShark, an international conservation initiative dedicated to the recovery of depleted shark and ray populations at a global scale. Comprising a collective of over 70 partners, from government agencies, large public aquaria, conservation organisations, and academic institutions, ReShark is dedicated to the recovery of threatened Elasmobranch (shark and ray) species around the world through a combination of carefully designed conservation translocation programs and targeted species recovery efforts. Restoring keystone species to their known historic ranges is key to ensuring healthy and balanced marine ecosystems, and is the primary motivation of the ReShark initiative. Learn more here: https://www.reshark.org
About Conservation International: Conservation International protects nature for the benefit of humanity. Through science, policy, fieldwork and finance, we spotlight and secure the most important places in nature for the climate, for biodiversity and for people. With offices in 30 countries and projects in more than 100 countries, Conservation International partners with governments, companies, civil society, Indigenous peoples and local communities to help people and nature thrive together. Go to Conservation.org for more, and follow our work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
About Konservasi Indonesia: Konservasi Indonesia is a national foundation that aims to support the sustainable development and protection of critical ecosystems in Indonesia. We believe in the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships across sectors and jurisdictions. Working in partnership with the government and others, we design and delivery innovative nature-based solutions to climate change using a sustainable landscapes-seascapes approach to create lasting impacts for people and nature.