A pioneering research project led by a team of Qatar University (QU) researchers and external collaborators is using underwater video to survey the abundance of sharks and rays in the coastal waters of Qatar.

Led by QU Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) Research Assistant Professor Dr J Jed Brown, a team of  researchers from QU and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) conducted a research project entitled “Underwater Video Survey of the Elasmobranchs of Qatar: A first step towards conservation”. The project is part of an agreement signed between CSD and AIMS in January 2017. It is funded by a QU internal grant awarded to Dr Brown and the Global FinPrint project — a 3-year project sponsored by Microsoft Co-founder Mr Paul Allen to study tropical reef ecosystems for sharks and rays.

The team used Baited Remote Underwater Video Cameras (BRUVS) to study the abundance of sharks and rays in the coastal waters of Qatar. The BRUVS attract and record fish life in the immediate area. Additionally, one of the unique highlights of this study is that one of the camera systems that are being deployed is actually a 3D virtual reality camera housing, which houses six individual cameras. Footage from this camera housing can be viewed on virtual reality head-sets or other systems such as the virtual reality cave in QU virtual reality lab.

The team has completed over 100 deployments of the BRUVS in Northern and Southern Qatar. Preliminary results show that very few sharks and rays have been observed. However, the lack of observations is useful data in and of itself. It provides a baseline for future studies and may be a sign that sharks are no longer found in habitats where they should be due to overfishing or habitat destruction.

Sharks and rays are of particular conservation concern due to their vulnerability to overfishing, and to their slow growth and reproductive rates, Dr Brown said, adding,

The research outcomes can be used to guide conservation and/or restoration efforts for vulnerable species, such as sawfishes, which have been heavily overexploited in the Gulf.’

He added:

This is one of QU’s research activities that highlights its core role in addressing important environmental issues. It also demonstrates QU’s commitment to knowledge-sharing and to providing expertise for multidisciplinary research, education and learning in line with its research priorities and in contribution to the objectives of Qatar National Vision 2030, the National Research Strategy, and other national development strategies.’

AIMS Postdoctoral Research Scientist Dr Conrad Speed said:

We welcome these types of partnerships that help us carry out the Global FinPrint project. Working with collaborative institutions such as Qatar University has enabled us to gain local knowledge and expertise, which are invaluable to our research. We hope that this collaboration will foster additional research in the future and build local capacity for carrying out marine surveys using BRUVS in the Gulf.’