Gilli Shark Conservation


In 2015, three ocean lovers came together and realised that they needed to help protect the sharks inhabiting Indonesian waters. They each had a passion for sharks and other marine life and so together they created Gili Shark Conservation Project, with the objective of promoting conservation efforts and increasing the level of protection for the marine life surrounding the Gili islands, through research and education. We sat down with Rose Huizenga, who is one of the founders of Gili Shark Conservation.

Despite their fearsome reputation as ruthless predators, sharks are vital to ocean health. Almost half of the shark species and their relatives assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are threatened or near threatened with extinction, primarily due to overfishing. Indonesia is recognized as one of the top shark fishing nations in the world. The most recent data estimates around 100,000 tonnes of sharks and rays are killed in Indonesia every year. 

Hey Rose, what drove you to set up Gili Shark Conservation? 

The Gili Islands play host to a Marine Protected Area (the GiliMatra Marine Recreational Reserve).  This area was declared an MPA (Marine Protected Area) in 1993 before the Gili islands had become a popular tourist hub. Since it’s initial creation, the area has never been properly monitored or re-assessed. Consistently for many years dive professionals have sighted both juvenile white tip reef sharks and juvenile black tip reef sharks year round within different zones of the MPA, giving us a strong belief that these zones are shark nursery grounds, and therefore a critical habitat for these near threatened species.

Over the last 26 years since the MPA’s creation the Gili Islands have changed dramatically, becoming a popular tourist destination. The local communities on all 3 Gili islands and monopoly of businesses rely solely on tourism to survive. Unfortunately, the high demand for accommodation and tourist activities combined with a lack of education has led to excessive coastal development, unhealthy waste management strategies and depletion of marine life within the MPA. We strive to make positive changes within the MPA and on land through research and education.

Tourism is a vital part of the economy on the Gilli Islands. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

Tourism is a vital part of the economy on the Gilli Islands. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

What are the greatest threats to sharks, and why is the work conducted at Gili Shark Conservation important for their protection? 

Over fishing and lack of education are the greatest threats to sharks. Indonesia is recognized as one of the top shark fishing nations in the world therefore, we feel blessed to be based in this country and to be able to offer education to the local community about sharks and sustainable fishing. 

We collect abundance data year round within the different zones of the MPA using a variety of survey methods to assess the health of each zone; we then share our findings with the government to make them aware of the conditions and environmental changes, highlighting areas that are suffering to encourage them to take action and implement change where necessary. We also use our data to build a case strong enough to prove to government officials that this area is a critical habitat for black tip and white tip reef sharks. 

Can you tell us about your current research?

We use variety of survey methods to collect abundance data within the MPA. Methods include: 

  1. Roving Survey Dives: Our research team rove all dive sites within the MPA several times per week. We use the data collected to assess behaviour and movements of the species within the MPA, monitor changes and record migratory species that pass through our waters helping us to access the health of the environment in each zone as well as giving us a better understanding of different species behavioural patterns. 

Data from roving dive surveys is used to assess behaviour and movements of the species within the MPA, monitor changes and record migratory species. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

Data from roving dive surveys is used to assess behaviour and movements of the species within the MPA, monitor changes and record migratory species. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

2. Remote Underwater Video (RUV): We deploy an underwater video around the MPA several times per week. The camera is placed at a variety of depths in random locations (preferably away from any recreational activities) for a minimum of 1 hour. This method allows us to study behavioural patterns of different species of marine life around the MPA, without the impact of divers and boats. We view their natural behaviour and the data allows us to better understand the perimeters which they chose to inhabit.

3. Photographic Identification: As we have a large population of sea turtles and reef sharks throughout the MPA we use this method to identify as many resident individuals as possible, in order to create a profile for each individual and track their behaviour and movements. We also use this method to give us a better idea of the true population of each species. We go to different dive sites within the MPA to collect identifiable footage of any sharks or turtles we encounter during the dive. We use a program called I3S to identify and make a profile for each individual photographed, which is then added to our data set. We like to use this method to identify sharks and turtles, as it is non-invasive and very effective. 

4.Coral Health Index: Attempts to determine the health of reefs by measuring substrate composition and reef fish biomass across the zones in the MPA. 

Out planting coral fragments to coral frames. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

Out planting coral fragments to coral frames. Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Aside from our marine research we also have a land based project called “Plastic Free Paradise”. Our Plastic Free Paradise project is designed to educate people in plastic free solutions and offer alternatives to single use plastic products. Under this project we have several sub-projects including: 

1. Community Day: We host a community day once a week, normally a beach cleanup or up-cycling workshop. 

2. Plastic Free Paradise Training: We offer all local businesses on the island a free plastic free training class designed to educate the local community in plastic free solutions. 

3. Club Harapan: Every Saturday morning our team attends the local elementary school on Gili Air to host ‘Club Harapan’ (Meaning Club Hope in Indonesian). The lesson plans aim to educate the children about the environment and promote conservation efforts from a young age.

4. Refill Gili: We introduced Refill Gili to Gili Air and established over 50 Refill stations. These give the local community a small income while providing tourists with an alternative to using single use plastic bottles. Local businesses offer people reusable water bottles, and allow people to refill their bottle for a small fee.

How can the public help support Gili Shark Conservation? 

Everyone can help in shark conservation by making simple lifestyle changes and choices that help to protect the environment and sharks. Here are a few tips from us at Gili Shark Conservation:

  1. Cut down on the use of one use plastic products and dispose of your trash appropriately.

  2. Don’t eat shark fin soup!

  3. Don’t purchase products containing shark (read the small print).

  4. Don’t buy shark teeth or jaws as souvenirs or jewellery.

  5. Eat sustainable sea food.

  6. Join Dives Against Debris.

  7. Organise and participate in beach cleanups.

  8. Educate yourself about sharks by taking the AWARE Shark Conservation PADI specialty course.

  9. Support genuine marine protection initiatives.

  10. Join our research team!

The Team! Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

The Team! Photo: Gili Shark Conservation

Lastly, what do you hope the future will bring for sharks and Gili Shark Conservation? 

All shark species deserve better global protection. As an apex predator in the ocean and the fact that they have survived millions of years, seeing them slowly disappearing due to mankind really makes a statement that the human race has made significant negative and disappointing changes in the world. There are many reasons why sharks are worth more alive than dead, from keeping the ecosystem in balance, to being one of the main assets for tourism that supports large numbers of coastal communities. 

Gili Shark Conservation promotes conservation efforts through education and research and raises awareness about the ocean. Gili Shark Conservation hopes that with our hard work and determination, more people are inspired to do their part in whatever expertise that they have, to make the ocean a better place. The time to act is now! 

Want to get involved? You don’t need to be a diver or scientist to become a research assistant; Gilli Shark Conservation are simply looking for enthusiastic ocean lovers who are eager to learn and make a difference in the world. It is very easy to apply and you can do so directly through their website.

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IF YOU’VE ENJOYED THIS INTERVIEW WITH NIKI, FOLLOW Gilli Shark Conservation HERE @gilisharkconservation OR check out their website


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