Manokwari, Jubi – The West Papua government has joined a multinational collaboration named the Stegostoma tigrinum Augmentation and Recovery (StAR) project, which seeks to recover the populations of zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum) in the Raja Ampat water through the release of juveniles bred in captive, as well as translocating eggs.
“The StAR project will re-establish healthy, genetically diverse, and self-sustaining populations of zebra shark in West Papua,” botanist and head of the West Papua Regional Research and Development Agency (Balitbangda) Charlie D Heatubun said on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
The zebra shark, locally known as hiu belimbing, is found throughout the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific waters. Its global population, including the population in West Papua’s Raja Ampat, has dramatically declined in the past 30 years due to targeted hunting for the shark fin trade, in addition to habitat degradation.
The Raja Ampat Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been known for its successful recovery program for reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). However, according to the monitoring team in the area, it was very rare to find zebra sharks in the same water over the past 20 years. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the zebra shark an endangered species.
Heatubun hoped that the StAR project would recover the zebra shark population in eight to ten years. “Without intervention initiative, the current [zebra shark] population will need 60 to 90 years to breed 100 to 200 sharks. The extinction probability is 23 percent,” he said.
West Papua Governor Dominggus Mandacan supported the initiative, saying that the StAR project was in line with West Papua’s special regional regulation. “The StAR project is one of the implementations of the West Papua’s special autonomy, West Papua as a conservation province for sustainable development and economy,” said Mandacan.
Mandacan also hoped that the project would be a model for other marine species population recovery and reinforcement programs in West Papua.
The StAR project includes advising members of the Raja Ampat MPA Authority, Conservation International, Georgia Aquarium, Misool Foundation, Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Center, Seattle Aquarium, Wash., Thrive Conservation, University of Queensland, Virginia Aquarium, and the West Papua Balitbangda. It is also supported by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and IUCN Conservation Planning Specialist Group.
Reporter: Hans Kapisa
Editor: Aryo Wisanggeni G