The Welsh coast is home to myriad marine species, including 26 species of sharks, rays and skates. As little is known about their biology and ecology, a new project will give people of all ages the opportunity to dive into marine conservation and learn about the extraordinary sharks, skates and rays living in Welsh coastal waters.
Launched today, on 23 February 2022, by the Zoological Society London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Project SIARC (Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities) is enlisting the help of fishers, schoolchildren, researchers and citizen scientists from across Wales to better understand some of the more unusual coastal species, such as the angelshark and common stingray, listed as critically endangered and vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species respectively.
Although community engagement and research will be focused at two areas, ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’, the project offers 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 scouring archives for historical information.
In schools, the project will get children involved by scaling up the success of online ‘meet the scientist’ sessions from Angel Shark Project: Wales, to reach 30 schools across Wales. The project will also work with ten schools around Carmarthen Bay to try their hand at 3D printing shark models, which will be used to educate the next generation about elasmobranchs.
This engagement will be complemented by research led by Project SIARC scientists in the two focus areas of ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’. Here, the scientists will take water samples to detect elasmobranch DNA, deploy underwater cameras to assess what elasmobranchs and habitats are present as well as work closely with fishers to gather information on the focal species.
Joanna Barker, Project SIARC Senior Project Manager, ZSL said: “We are delighted to launch Project SIARC with our partner organisations to showcase the incredible elasmobranchs found in Wales. Project SIARC combines biological and social sciences to address critical data gaps for elasmobranchs in Wales whilst generating a new appreciation for the underwater marine environment.
“Currently, few people in Wales can witness these amazing species first-hand, but we hope that the Project SIARC citizen science opportunities, school engagement programme and outreach will bring the underwater world to your doorstep and enable a wider range of people to be involved in marine conservation in Wales.”
The project 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.”
If you want to read more about angelsharks in Wales, read our feature here.
For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.
Photography and video courtesy of Zoological Society London & Jake Davies.