A new body has been formed to research sharks in the Seychelles.

This non-governmental organisation which has been named Shark Research Foundation Seychelles (SRFS) is made up of marine experts from the Environment Department, Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA), Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS), Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), the Artisanal Shark Fishers Association (ASFA) and l’Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD).

Sharks are vitally important for healthy marine ecosystems and research from across the globe has shown that when shark numbers are depleted by factors such as overfishing and habitat destruction, the whole ecosystem suffers, often resulting in the loss of other commercially important species.

 They also often act as a great attraction to divers and as such various types of sharks encounter dives have formed highly lucrative businesses in many countries.

  In Seychelles in particular, sharks have a strong cultural base and are included in favourite traditional dishes such as satini reken and lapo latet reken.

Unfortunately, the valuable services that sharks provide us with are often overshadowed by the fear of being attacked.

 The tragic events of August last year in which two people lost their lives shocked the nation and answers were immediately called for.

 The protection of Seychellois and those visiting the country is of utmost importance and is one of the priorities of the SRFS. To be able to attain this goal, much research on the types, numbers and behaviour of sharks in Seychelles is required.

 This research also fulfils many of the requirements of the national plan of action for sharks which guides shark management in the Seychelles and falls under the global plan of action for sharks which was

formulated in response to dramatic declines in their numbers around the world, largely due to the shark fin soup trade.

The SRFS has already begun ground breaking work in Seychelles by attaching satellite tags to two large tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier). The tags are designed to communicate with satellites and give the position of the shark among other information, allowing researchers to track its movements day and night. This information is currently under analysis.

 The tigers were also surgically implanted with acoustic tags that emit signals picked up by receiver stations that have been strategically placed around the coast of Mahé. This acoustic tagging follows on from two ongoing projects carried out cooperatively by the SFA, MCSS and SNPA: SEYSHA that was designed to track movements and elucidate habitat usage by reef sharks around Mahé, and the Global Environment Fund Small Grants Programme multi-species tracking project at Bay Ternay.

Catching, handling and tagging of large sharks is obviously a highly skilled endeavour and as such, local shark fishermen have been helping researchers in this area. Their knowledge of where to find the sharks and how to catch and handle them has been vital to the success of the last two tagging events.
 
Fishermen and scientists were brought together again on February 7 for a shark tagging workshop organised and run for the SRFS through experts at IRD and SFA. The workshop taught participants how to surgically implant acoustic tags and how to attach the exterior satellite tags. Representatives from the Artisanal Shark Fishermen’s Association, Environment Department, MCSS, SFA and IRD all felt that the event was a great success with much information and skills shared and learned.

The SRFS is currently developing new proposals and applying for funding to continue research that aims to protect humans while preserving healthy, functional ecosystems.