Assessing the Population, Distribution, and Conservation Status of Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti) in Southwest Papua, Indonesia

16 Jan 2024 Arborek Island, Indonesia, Asia Fishes | Marine

Faqih Akbar Alghozali

The Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti) is a species endemic to the Raja Ampat Islands, Southwest Papua, Indonesia. Despite its conservation status of Near Threatened, the species population is assessed to be declining. Degradation of reef flats also occurs in approximately 20% of the species distribution range due to the combination of tourism development and climate change. Furthermore, the fact that the species is only found on shallow seagrass beds, coral reefs, and rocky outcrops at a maximum depth of 10 m, their distribution in Raja Ampat might be restricted due to trenches-deep water between islands. Although fully protected throughout its full range (Raja Ampat Regency Law No. 9/2012) and was just recently fully protected nationally (Ministerial Decree of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) No. 3/2023), the species is suspected to still face the threats from homestay construction, habitat disturbance by boat traffic, artisanal fishing/gleaning, from about 120 villages throughout its distribution range.

Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark. © Faqih Akbar Alghozali - EPI.

Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark. © Faqih Akbar Alghozali - EPI.

Unfortunately, the research on this species is limited since the first observation of this species in 2003 and the latest monitoring of the species by Conservation International in 2020. The lack of a more robust ecology and threat information of/to Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark while considering the species declining population and limited movement may lead to the worsening of the species population, despite the species being fully protected. Therefore, species-specific research on population, distribution, and threats is needed to provide more robust information of the species that will serve as reference to create better management plan for Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark population, either inside or outside the MPA areas by the local communities, tourism operators, and local authorities. This project will also be a continuation project on Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark in Raja Ampat conducted by the Elasmobranch Project Indonesia team in 2023 and aims to identifying information on the species socio-ecological aspect through applied research, promoting citizen science as a long-term species conservation effort, and providing science-based management recommendation to the stakeholders.

Header: Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark. © Faqih Akbar Alghozali - EPI.

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