New project seeks to safeguard some of the rarest marine species in Wales
A new initiative launched this week hopes to develop a better understanding of sharks, skates and rays living in Welsh coastal waters
The Zoological Society London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) are leading Project SIARC (Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities) which offers people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to get involved in marine conservation to safeguard some of the rarest marine species in Wales
Project SIARC says it hopes to enlist the help of “fishers, schoolchildren, researchers and citizen scientists” from across Wales to gain understanding of some of the more unusual coastal species, such as the angelshark (Squatina squatina) and common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca), which are listed as Critically Endangered and Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species respectively.
The Welsh coast is home to a range of marine life, including 26 species of sharks, skates and rays – a group known as elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are an important part of Wales’ natural heritage, with significant conservation and cultural importance. Despite this, little is known about their biology and ecology.
Community engagement and research will be focused at two Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’, in the project which gives local communities the chance to be part of a ‘green recovery’ in Wales.
Project SIARC also plans to offer a wide range of free in-person and online opportunities, from learning how to identify elasmobranch eggcases, to helping detect sharks in underwater video footage, and accessing archives for historical information.
In addition, Project SIARC say it hopes to enable a wider range of people to access and get involved in marine conservation by identifying opportunities and breaking down barriers to engagement.
This engagement will be complemented by research led by Project SIARC scientists in the SACs, working closely with fishers to gather information on the focal species.
Project SIARC is an expansion of Angel Shark Project: Wales, which was set up in 2018. Data gathered as part of Angel Shark Project: Wales evidenced the importance of the Welsh coast for angelsharks and was used to develop the Wales Angelshark Action Plan.
Jake Davies, Project SIARC Coordinator, NRW said: “Project SIARC grew from people’s input and enthusiasm for Angel Shark Project: Wales. Communities started sharing exciting information about all sorts of sharks, skates and rays, which provided new insights on the ecology of these little-studied species.
“That meant we could develop Project SIARC – their input was incredible. For Project SIARC, we will use similar techniques to better understand how angelshark, common stingray, spurdog and tope use Welsh waters and how they interact with habitats protected by two of Wales’ largest SACs.”
Ben Wray, NRW Project SIARC Manager & Marine Ecologist added: “Co-led by ZSL and NRW, Project SIARC is part of a wider integrated approach in Wales driven by the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts.
“This recognises that resilient ecosystems are fundamental to the well-being of people in Wales. By re-connecting people with nature, we can support improvements in mental health and well-being as well as encourage better stewardship of our seas and reverse the decline in biodiversity. It also highlights the interconnections of global environmental issues, such as the climate and nature emergencies.”
Several organisations are helping to deliver Project SIARC, including Bangor University, Blue Abacus, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Swansea University and The Shark Trust. It is also supported by an additional nine organisations that sit on the Project SIARC Steering Group.
The project has received a £390,000 grant from the Welsh Government’s Nature Networks Fund, which was delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as a £180,997 National Lottery grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund and £40,000 grant from On the Edge.
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