Inside Dubai’s remarkable shark breeding program at Atlantis
A successful marine program in Dubai helps boost shark numbers while changing attitudes towards nature’s precious predator.
Five Arabian carpet sharks and three honeycomb stingrays were the last marine animals bred to repopulate Jebel Ali Nature Reserve.
A coordinated statement scheduled for Sunday was postponed to October due to a sudden rise in temperatures.
Sharks are the main predators and their elimination will damage ecosystems and fisheries
In Dubai, the mercury rose to 45 ° C on Sunday, nearly 10 degrees higher than a week earlier.
“The salinity of the water was already very high, so when the temperature rises, the salinity increases further and we get low levels of oxygen in the water,” said Robert Bennet, director of Lost Chambers Aquarium. Atlantis, where the animals were bred.
“We can acclimatize the animals, but the temperatures were climbing higher than expected.”
Atlantis fish quarantine facilities have become a focal point for regional conservation.
Sharks and rays are among the many marine animals threatened around the world by overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution.
As top predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems which, in turn, encourage fish populations.
The aquarium program acts as an educational center and breeding ground to increase the number of sharks and rays swimming freely in UAE waters.
So far, in 2021, 30 different species of sharks and rays have been released into the Gulf.
Education about sharks and their importance to marine ecosystems has also given conservationists hope that depleted populations could recover.
Experts estimate that around 90% of the world’s sharks have been wiped out due to overfishing, with many either being targeted for their fins for the Asian food market or trapped in industrial trawlers as bycatch.
Of the 470 shark species worldwide, 2.4% are critically endangered, 3.2% are endangered, 10.3% are vulnerable and 14.4% are near threatened.
Attitudes towards sharks are slowly starting to change, Bennet said.
“Dubai is built on a culture of fishing, so the change in attitude towards sharks will not happen overnight,” he said.
But there has certainly been a big change over the past decade, he said.
“It was not unusual to see 200 to 300 sharks lined up for sale in the fish market 12 years ago,” Mr. Bennet said.
“You’re going now and you won’t see any.
“Government agencies are improving in shark conservation, but the downside is that there are fewer sharks there.”
In March 2020, Atlantis, Dubai became the first destination in the Middle East to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an international benchmark in the field.
AZA certification applies to their entire operation, including animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, customer service, physical infrastructure and security.
Pandemic allows marine life to flourish
“All we’re trying to do here is take care of these animals to the highest standards and to the best of our ability and educate people about these global issues,” said Kelly Timmins, director of conservation, education and CSR at Atlantis.
“Sharks are the main predators and their elimination will damage ecosystems and fisheries. All of this is part of a larger global vision. “
A 12-month period of inactivity in UAE waters during the pandemic with restricted water sports and fishing allowed marine life to flourish, giving hope that fish stocks could recover .
Once the water temperature has cooled sharks and rays will be released, but this is unlikely to happen until the end of summer.
Until then, they will swim in a huge nursery pond out of public view as they continue to grow.
“We allow reproduction to occur naturally and it turns out that these species of sharks and rays have reproduced,” said Ms Timmins, who is British.
“Other species have reproduced but they haven’t been as prolific as these carpet sharks and honeycomb rays.
“The sharks will be released in a gently sloping, shallow area of the protected coastline at Jebel Ali.
“There is a sandy shore, but there will be shelter in recessed coral reefs further offshore.
“It will become their natural habitat.”