Murdoch student wins prestigious award to study sharks in Indonesia

January 18, 2012

Murdoch University student Vanessa Jaiteh has won a prestigious Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Outgoing Postgraduate Award.

The award provides financial support for Australian postgraduate students to carry out research in Asia that works towards strengthening the relationships between Australia and Asian countries.

Ms Jaiteh’s project, which she is undertaking through Murdoch University’s Asia Research Centre and the Centre for Fish, Fisheries and Aquatic Ecosystems, is investigating the effects of East Indonesian shark fisheries on shark populations in the Coral Triangle and their significance to shark fishers.

“I’m trying to identify trade-offs between shark management initiatives and their impact on the livelihood security and economic welfare of remote shark fishing communities,” she said.

“Shark populations are in concerning decline worldwide and their conservation has become increasingly important in recent years. Indonesia is the world’s leading harvester of shark fin, but has no legal framework for managing shark and ray populations within its waters. This means that Indonesian shark fisheries are largely uncontrolled, with unknown impacts on the affected shark populations.”

She said while shark fins demand a high price, many small-scale fishers still live in poverty.

“Remote rural fishing communities are in danger of suffering livelihood loss as a result of declining shark populations, but also through management decisions which are often based on biological data alone, and therefore do not take into account the livelihood requirements of local fishers as stakeholders.

“If fishers are not considered in management decisions, the result could be illegal fishing or greater poverty among fishing communities, which does not work in favour of marine resource conservation nor community development.

“Ultimately, my aim is to provide recommendations for effective shark management strategies that have a strong potential for both protecting shark populations and preventing loss of livelihoods in shark fishing communities of Eastern Indonesia.”

Ms Jaiteh aims to engage shark fishers to determine options for shark management in Indonesia. This will be made easier thanks to the award.

“The award allows me to undertake a year of fieldwork; this allows me to investigate my project in more detail and depth, which would not be possible under a regular scholarship,” she said.

“I hope to use the award to form collaborations that will lead to more efficient marine conservation in Eastern Indonesia through joint research projects between Australia and Indonesia.”

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