News Release

Save Our Seas Foundation celebrates 20 years and announces a record 75 grants for 2023

In its 20th anniversary year, SOSF welcomes grant recipients working on the most pressing issues for sharks and rays. From raising the profile of rays to tackling climate change, its project leaders are leading the conservation charge.

Grant and Award Announcement

Save Our Seas Foundation

SOSF 2023 PL_01

image: This year, the diverse but often threatened cousins of sharks - the rays - were a focus for many funded projects, and Endangered species remain a priority for action. view more 

Credit: Artwork by Josie Thorne | © Save Our Seas Foundation

It’s a milestone year for the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF). Twenty years has seen considerable changes in the shark and ray conservation sector, and many challenges remain to be tackled. As we’ve learnt more, we’ve realised just how complex our oceans are and just how deep we need to delve into the details if we’re going to ensure a sustainable and equitable future on this planet. But every year, the SOSF is heartened by the growing number of funding applications and the unflagging commitment of researchers and educators around the world to shark and ray conservation. If anything could ensure staying power beyond two decades for an organisation, it’s the energy provided by seeing the growth in the number and diversity of project leaders, project areas and innovative ideas. This year, several key themes have emerged as priorities that merit attention: young researchers, new coastlines, poorly understood species and under-funded regions New projects are diving into understanding and protecting the species-rich and highly threatened group called rays (sharks’ flattened relatives). Other projects are getting a handle on the scale of our human footprint, from the impact of undersea electromagnetic noise on the US coastline to gathering information about fisheries in Tunisia and India, and measuring how warmer and more acidic seas will affect the reproduction and growth of sharks. 

The local knowledge and historical anecdotes of fishing communities on the Kenyan coast are critical to the work of Victor Alati, a Small Grant recipient for 2023. Victor hopes to track how populations of the Critically Endangered halavi guitarfish have changed over time, gleaning information that will compare where they used to be found with their current abundance and distribution. Cyrus Rumisha, another grant recipient, is building capacity for local Kenyan and Tanzanian communities to identify and protect endangered mobulids (the manta and devil rays). Besides visiting markets and the sites where sharks are caught and brought ashore, Cyrus will be hosting training workshops, meetings and traditional dances to best engage and incorporate community participation. 

As our oceans warm and their chemistry changes, scientists are growing increasingly concerned about understanding how this will affect sharks and rays. Their thinking? We need to prepare to adapt conservation plans that are future-fit. Noémie Coulon is testing the impact of a warming and acidifying ocean, focusing on the developing embryos of small-spotted catsharks in the north-eastern Atlantic, from where she is based in Brittany, France. Alice Rogers is exploring how even in some of the most remote reaches of our planet, like Fiordland in the south-western corner of Aotearoa, New Zealand, the impact of climate change will still be felt. She is looking at how broadnose sevengill sharks might respond to changing salinity and temperatures, hoping to give these sharks the best shot at survival.  

The proliferation in applications to research the more frequently ignored ‘flat sharks’ is also an exciting development for 2023. Cynthia Awruch has a mystery to solve in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania. Here, the endemic (found nowhere else on earth) Maugean skate is disappearing – and she is determined to understand how the impacts of mining, aquaculture and pollution might be affecting its reproduction. Filmmaker Danny Copeland is getting creative for angel sharks, producing a long-form documentary that celebrates the incredible work of researchers and conservationists who are bringing three species of these camouflaged rays back from the brink in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic. 

The range of projects supported this year spans such a diversity of important themes,’ says Dr James Lea, the SOSF’s chief executive officer. ‘It is exciting to see what growth and change can happen in 20 years, and the projects funded for 2023 are well placed to build on a solid legacy of conservation innovation.

The Foundation continues to fund the SOSF D’Arros Research Centre in Seychelles, the SOSF Shark Education Centre in South Africa and the SOSF Shark Research Center in the USA. Its long-standing partners, the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, Manta Trust, North Coast Cetacean Society, Shark Spotters and The Acoustic Tracking Array Platform, all received renewed funding. Continuity, long-term monitoring and collaboration remain at the core of these relationships. 

‘Ensuring that a new generation of scientists, conservationists and educators are supported is essential to the longevity of the good work taking place across our oceans,’ says the Founder of the SOSF, His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. ‘Funding their work, especially when they are asking important questions about our future, is made more poignant in reflecting on our anniversary year.’

From searching for ‘lost sharks’ to gathering environmental DNA from sawfishes on the Amazon coast, understanding Indonesia’s thresher shark populations and saving the ‘rhino rays’ of Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, the 2023 project leader cohort is one to watch. To learn more and follow project news, visit the Project Leader story section here and follow the SOSF on social media. 

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