Emerging technologies have extensive applications in understanding and protecting species. However, impactful science requires one to find ways to integrate findings into actionable strategies. This is particularly vital in the conservation space. As a Masters student at Stellenbosch University working in the Molecular Breeding and Biodiversity laboratory, I use molecular tools to aid in the conservation of exploited, threatened and endemic shark and ray species. When I started this journey, I recognized the value of the findings in my field, but felt that most publications were not reaching broader society and moving into spaces where they may have an impact.
This prompted my colleague and I to start our social media campaign called “Science Saves Sharks” aimed at changing the narrative around sharks as dangerous predators and sharing how science holds huge potential in conservation. Although the aim is to educate, we have been challenged to learn far more than the research alone teaches us.
In a conservation setting, genomic diversity is critical for healthy ecosystems. A loss in genetic diversity reduces the capacity of species to adapt to changing environments and to tolerate anthropogenic pressures. Conservation genomics aims to investigate population diversity and demographics to track the evolutionary history of species and, with that, the potential for adaptation. The loss of sharks and rays, which are among the world’s most endangered creatures, would be detrimental for us. As both predators and prey, they play a vital role in the delicate ocean ecology. Humans rely heavily on healthy reefs and oceans as a reservoir of food and other resources. Consequently, protecting these ecosystems has become a priority, with the United Nations declaring 2021-2030 “The Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development”.
Our impact is relatively small when we work in isolation. Collaboration of ocean stakeholders with different expertise is necessary to address priority areas identified policy-makers. Furthermore, large-scale change requires well-planned, species-specific management strategies, however policy is only valuable if it is properly enforced by governing authorities. Our hope is to continue expanding our reach so that we can foster more collaboration between the public and different ocean stakeholders and that is the motivation for our application here. The uplifting message behind the organization is so important at encouraging people to get involved and work together to create a more sustainable future and we would be honored to belong to such a network.