The Importance of Sharks and Rays in Mozambique: The Need for Data, Research and Cooperation

Sharks and rays are critical species that play a vital role within the ecosystem. These species maintain an ecological balance within the food chain, as they control the variety and amounts of fish and other organisms. Large, deep-diving sharks and rays also help phytoplankton to grow, by moving between deep and shallow levels of the ocean. This means that if the numbers of sharks and rays decline, the ecosystem is pushed out of balance; the presence of sharks and rays can therefore be perceived as a way to measure the health of the oceans. With approximately 147 shark and ray species recorded in Mozambique, the countries’ waters are considered a hotspot, especially the south of country, which includes the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP), where BCSS is located.

The Bazaruto Archipelago is home to approximately 147 shark and ray species.

The BCSS team often see shark and ray species of various life stages displaying captivating behavior in the greater Bazaruto area, which indicates that the BANP is an important area for these species. The archipelago falls under the West Indian Ocean chondrichthyans (class of cartilaginous fishes that includes sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras) hotspot, yet little is known about the sharks and rays that roam this area. There is very limited information available regarding subjects like their feeding behavior, habitat usage and reproduction. In order to better understand issues like the roles of these animals in the ecosystem, how the effects of global warming impact them and the loss of numbers due to unsustainable fishing practices, more studies need to be conducted. Based on new data and research, both local and international policies can be legislated to protect sharks and rays. 
“Elasmobranchs are generally apex predators; pivotal species in any environment. Their abundance showcases a healthy system, as they take away animals that are old or weak, including other sharks. Their role as regulators of fish populations keeps marine ecosystems in balance.

The Mozambican coastline is one of the most important shark hotspots in the world and includes endangered hammerhead sharks. Thus, any type of data on shark species use coastal and offshore environments is of very high value, mostly for regulation and conservation purposes. There is a high scientific merit in learning more about shark movements, habitat use and behaviour, so they can be better protected.”
– Dr. Mario Lebrato, Chief Scientist at BCSS

A bullshark roaming the shallower waters of the Bazaruto Archipelago, spotted in July 2020 by the BCSS team.

On the 14th of May, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) published an article emphasizing the crucial role that sharks and rays have, not only within ecosystems in Mozambican waters, but worldwide. The need to work together on this topic is growing as there are still a lot of gaps in the knowledge of shark and ray research, and the necessity to implement accurate conservation efforts is rising as the populations are declining. As a research center, BCSS is able to contribute to shark and ray research by providing an open-source database focusing on the BANP and beyond. The majority of the data that BCSS collects will be available to scientific communities and organizations that are working on shark and ray related topics. The data provides valuable insights into the BANP and Mozambican waters and can contribute to their conservation efforts in the area.

Part of the data that BCSS continuously collects, provides information regarding shark and ray populations and behaviors in the BANP and Mozambican waters in general. Examples of the data include observations and video/photographic footage, biological samples (for Isotyope/DNA analysis), spatial distribution data, trophic analysis and ecotoxicological studies. BCSS also helps other researchers to acoustically and satellite track the movement of various shark species in the BANP, which provides data on subjects like habitat usage, feeding ecology and inventory.

A reef manta ray (Manta Alfredi) spotted off the coast of Bazaruto by the BCSS team in May 2021.

For questions about this article, please contact:
Iris Uijttewaal, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
+44 7 882 030 249

Host of the first permanent Ocean Observatory focused on multi-ecosystem time series research in Africa, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) was established in 2017 as in independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to protect and support the fragile ecosystems of the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. The research station is located on Benguerra Island, off the coast of Mozambique.
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