With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, volunteers will be trained and equipped to tag sharks at sea and record their egg cases (or mermaid’s purses) on the shore to target much-needed conservation work, as part of the charity’s new Sea Deep initiative.
There are at least twenty sharks and rays in our local seas, from the Common Skate, the largest skate in the world reaching three meters in length, to the Spurdog which can live for up to 70 years.
Sharks are essential to healthy and productive seas as they are top predators, but sadly they are under threat with numbers in serious decline. Sharks and rays are long-lived and slow to mature and reproduce which makes them vulnerable to overfishing and other human threats, such as pollution or habitat destruction.
Some, such as the Porbeagle and the ironically-named Common Skate, are now more endangered than the snow leopard and African elephant says the charity.
An NI-wide shark tagging programme will help to provide crucial information about these poorly understood animals. People of all ages will also be able to make a difference as citizen scientists through egg case hunts and other shark events around our coast.
Launching the Sea Deep project, Rebecca Hunter, Project Coordinator with Ulster Wildlife, said: “Unfortunately, we know very little about our sharks and rays even though some local species are now facing extinction. We want to ensure these incredible creatures are not lost from our seas forever and World’s Ocean’s Day is a perfect opportunity to connect people to what’s out of sight and out of mind.
“By working together with sea users, schools and local communities across NI, we hope to identify important spawning grounds and nursery areas to ensure local sharks get the protection they urgently need.”
Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund in NI added: “Sea Deep, funded thanks to National Lottery players, is another important project, which is working to protect and highlight our natural heritage. The project is focusing on the skates and sharks that inhabit our seas but are increasingly under threat. We’ve invested over £50M in Northern Ireland’s natural heritage to help people to make a difference and we would encourage everyone to get involved in Ulster Wildlife’s ambitious new project.”
To find out how you can get involved with shark conservation in Northern Ireland visit www.seadeepni.org