AsianScientist (Sep. 17, 2021) – There’s nothing quite like the frenzied atmosphere of professional wrestling. As fighters step into the ring, they showcase feats of strength and agility amid the cacophony of jeers and applause.
Despite being staged as performance theater, the daunting moves from takedowns to choke holds make it easy to believe in the fierce competition—hook, line and sinker. Following fictional storylines, competitors in ‘live’ matches act out entertaining personas that audiences love—or love to hate.
Scripted as it may be, Singapore’s budding pro wrestling scene is nonetheless exhilarating, with daring antagonists like the ‘Colonizer’. Behind this villainous character is Ms. Naomi Clark-Shen, whose day job is another form of fighting.
Once the wrestling tape stops rolling, Clark-Shen is a PhD student at James Cook University’s Singapore campus, who is on a mission to combat overfishing of sharks and stingrays. Along local shores, she aims to catalyze conservation efforts by studying the biology of sea-dwellers that play vital roles in marine ecosystems.
While hunting for food, rays excavate sandy seafloors, carving out important micro-habitats for other aquatic creatures, explained Clark-Shen. However, the demand for local delicacies like BBQ stingray dishes may put these populations at risk, with global overfishing already threatening to drive a quarter of all shark and ray species to extinction.
“Their disappearance might disrupt the food chain, affecting other marine life that we eat and depend on to survive,” Clark-Shen added.
Beyond changing market demand, conservation urges reforming practices at sea—both in Singapore and eventually at fisheries abroad where most of the nation’s supply comes from. To this end, Clark-Shen’s research involves surveying the sharks and rays at local ports, dissecting samples to unravel their life histories.
By measuring the creatures’ size and examining their internal and reproductive organs, she can weave a narrative about how long they lived, what they ate, when they would mate and how many offspring they produced in their lifetime.
According to Clark-Shen, species that mature rapidly and give birth to litters of pups fare better than those that are slow to grow and reproduce few and far in between. As many sharks and rays follow the late maturity cycle, their populations are vulnerable to declining and potentially vanishing completely, especially when overfishing catches juvenile ones before they can repopulate our seas.
In a project that began in 2017, Clark-Shen and colleagues studied over 15,000 sharks and rays imported or caught locally at Singapore’s fisheries, finding high proportions of immature individuals for Carcharinus sorrah and C. sealei shark species.
Captured for their high-quality meat, the voluminous imports of Maculabatis gerrardi and M. macrura stingrays also raised alarm. Given their dwindling numbers at sea, both are categorized as Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List.
Clark-Shen emphasized that these insights build the foundation for more sustainable fishing. In collaboration with policymakers and fisherfolk, conservation scientists can recommend practices like changing netting sizes to avoid snagging smaller juveniles or perhaps dispatching longlines and hooks only at certain depths or time periods to protect peak breeding seasons.
Besides conservation, Clark-Shen also takes animal welfare to heart. While the two are often thought of as synonymous, the fields may not always see eye to eye. Case in point: well-managed trophy hunting is suggested to aid conservation, yet is a major ethical concern for welfare activists.
Just as how conflicts in pro wrestling are settled in the ring, Clark-Shen believes that responsible, research-backed strategies can serve both sides of these divisive issues.
For example, product labeling is one way to foster a sense of accountability and trust, showing where and how seafood are sourced. Such labels are already making their mark for livestock products, and Clark-Shen hopes it can turn the tide for marine welfare, too.
“For conservation reasons, we can take practical steps to sustain fishermen’s livelihood so they can keep fishing in a sustainable way. But we can also see improve the welfare of the fishes that are being caught,” she explained.
Tricky as her work may be, having a passion and creative outlet in wrestling continues to keep her fighting spirit ablaze. For Clark-Shen, the convergence of conservation and welfare efforts will not only reverse current ecological disturbances but prevent tomorrow’s emergencies.
“People often work on their own things and never actually bring them together to find realistic solutions,” Clark-Shen said. “My goal is to bring those two together and meet halfway through compassionate conservation.”
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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