Saving angels: new plan aims to conserve Critically Endangered Angelshark

Collaborative bodies

An Action Plan to save one of the world’s most threatened shark species from extinction was today unveiled by a partnership of leading conservation organisations. 

The under belly of an angel shark swimming through the sea
Once widespread throughout the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, the unusual Angelshark (Squatina squatina) has suffered severe declines over the past century, largely due to the intensification of commercial fishing practices. Following a significant decline in its historical range, the waters around the Canary Islands now represent the last stronghold for this shark, and its protection in this area has been recognised as a conservation priority for the species.

The Angelshark Action Plan for the Canary Islands was drawn up by the Angel Shark Project – a partnership between ZSL, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and Germany’s Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig - Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity (ZMFK) - in collaboration with the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, the Shark Trust and SUBMON. The Plan sets out a 10-year roadmap designed to ensure a coordinated approach to conserve Angelsharks in the archipelago, the first such plan developed for this species.

ZSL marine conservationist Joanna Barker, lead author of the Angelshark Action Plan, said: “Given the restricted range for Angelsharks in European waters, we recognised a unique opportunity to develop a specific set of actions intended to safeguard the future of this Critically Endangered species. The Plan represents a new era for Angelshark conservation and will hopefully enable coordinated conservation to flourish across the Canary Islands.”

Angel shark swimming above the ocean bed
The Action Plan was developed with input from a range of local and international stakeholders, including divers, scientists and conservationists, alongside the Canary Islands and Spanish governments. It includes a comprehensive exploration of the threats facing Angelsharks, as well as specific actions to mitigate these issues and recommendations for strengthening formal protection of the species.

Dr Nicholas Dulvy, ZSL Fellow and Co-chair of IUCN Shark Specialist Group said; “Our research revealed that incidental catch by commercial and recreational fisheries, along with habitat loss and degradation, are the primary threats that face the species, with disturbance by divers and beachgoers also having an impact.”

“We hope that through the implementation of this plan, we will be able to achieve the vision it lays out – for Angelsharks in the Canary Islands to be abundant and protected in their unique stronghold.”

Launching alongside the Angelshark Action Plan is a new Angel Shark Sightings Map, designed to gather public sightings of the three Critically Endangered angel sharks found in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. This map allows citizen scientists to report sightings of angel sharks during dives, fishing trips or even at fish markets to help inform conservation and management.  

A pair of angel sharks swimming above the seabed
Dr David Jimenez Alvarado of ULPGC (IU-ECOAQUA) and project officer of the Angel Shark Project said: “It is vital to understand the critical habitats of this majestic and poorly known shark in this unique stronghold, and we encourage all people involved in this project from the government to children in schools to work together to secure the future of this Critically Endangered species.”

To report Angelshark sightings or learn more about the conservation of this species, visit www.zsl.org/angelsharks or www.angelsharkproject.com

Read the Angelshark Action Plan

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