Project uses DNA to fight illegal trade in aquatic products

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With funding from nonprofit OCEARCH, a new project to detect illegal trade in sharks and other marine and freshwater wildlife is a critical tool in the global effort to reverse the decline of vulnerable and threatened species on our planet. Led by Dr Diego Cardeñosa of Florida International University and Dr Demian Chapman of Mote Marine Laboratory, the development and deployment of their “DNA Toolkit” in Latin America, Europe and Southeast Asia is a breakthrough essential to fight against illegal trafficking of sharks, eels, turtles, tuna and other wildlife products.

“With the help of OCEARCH and other partners, we are working on the implementation of DNA testing in ports to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which is one of the most damaging activities in the world. biodiversity in the world, ”said Dr Cardeñosa. “The tool shows that, if it has DNA, we can use it for a number of wildlife trade issues. Our work with authorities in Hong Kong, Peru and Colombia has been incredibly successful in combating the illegal trade in sharks, eels and turtles. We are now looking to expand the use of this tool to other key countries and to make DNA testing in ports a daily practice. “

The DNA Toolkit uses portable units the size of a toaster to perform DNA testing on wildlife products, with results obtained in hours at a fraction of the previous cost of such work – less one dollar per sample. In each country where this is deployed, inspection officers are trained to use the tool to identify species and incorporate DNA test results into their evidence case and prosecutions against wildlife trafficking and illegal trade. .

The toolkit has been used successfully in Hong Kong and Peru, where it can often be difficult to identify species of wildlife products with a single visual inspection. With their new funding, the researchers will deploy the units to Colombia, Spain, Guatemala, Belize and Indonesia, countries facing challenges related to the illegal trade in shark products and other marine wildlife and water. gentle.

With an additional grant, two DNA toolbox units will be deployed in the two largest fishing ports in Spain, to combat the illegal shark trade and ensure the application of the bluefin tuna quota there. Fishermen and dealers will not be able to call illegal products by any other name. “DNA doesn’t lie,” said Dr Cardeñosa. “With our DNA toolkit, we will be able to quickly and inexpensively determine the exact species of each animal product we test. “

As a data-centric organization committed to using the most innovative approaches to marine conservation, OCEARCH salutes the work done by Cardeñosa and Chapman. “We are extremely pleased to help support this important effort to crack down on the illegal trade in sharks, tuna, turtles and other vulnerable species,” said Dr. Bob Hueter, Chief Scientist of OCEARCH. “OCEARCH’s mission is to provide the data and the means to restore our oceans to abundance and sustainability. We are running out of time to save many of these species, and this faster, cheaper technology provides an essential tool in the race to achieve that goal. “

The OCEARCH funded component of this project has a one year timeline. Results at the end of the year are expected from deployments in Spain, providing a model for a wider implementation of this tool in wildlife trade centers around the world.


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