Dr Andrew Chin is a scientific adviser to the Save Our Seas Foundation and a coastal fisheries scientist based in Queensland, Australia. An Australian Institute of Marine Science | James Cook University Postdoctoral Research Fellow, he is one of the founders of the Ocean Chondrichthyan Society. Andrew is particularly interested in coastal fisheries: the ecology and biology of their target and by-catch species, how the fisheries and communities who rely on them ‘work’, and how the fisheries can be sustainable into the future. Lauren De Vos spoke to him about his research interests and his insights into conservation, its present and its future.
Where did your particular interest in sharks and rays begin?
Frankly, it’s probably Jacques Cousteau’s fault! I grew up in Singapore, which is a metropolitan city, but I read dive magazines and watched all the marine documentaries I could find. Sharks have always just fascinated me. At that stage, they were a hidden issue; there was no major conservation interest in them in the 1980s. I remember visiting fish markets as a child in Singapore and seeing lots of stingrays and thinking, ‘I wonder how they’re faring?’ That question has always been in the back of my mind. When I came to Australia, I wanted to work on the Great Barrier Reef. At the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority I was involved in everything from impact assessments to coral surveys and citizen science projects, but there wasn’t much that was specific to sharks being done. Still, I worked hard at the time to raise the issue of sharks within the agency. When the opportunity eventually came up to focus on sharks at James Cook University, I took it.
What is your current research focus?
I’m lucky enough to be working on a project with Dr Michelle Heupel where we are satellite tagging hammerhead sharks to look at population connectivity across northern Australia. It’s the project I wanted to do for my PhD and it didn’t work out then, but here I am almost a decade later – so it’s fantastic! I also launched a new programme last year called Shark Search Indo-Pacific. This is something that’s been slowly building since 2012 and it’s now at the stage where it’s gathering momentum. We want to build a species checklist and status overview of sharks and rays for every country and territory in the Pacific by 2022. The reason this started was that a colleague from the Solomon Islands had noted that the government wanted a plan of action but had no data. So Shark Search uses this logic: first you assess the biodiversity, then you analyse the pressures and threats, and then you do a preliminary desktop review that can be used as a springboard to open conversations with stakeholders and government. It’s that first health check: what do we know, what don’t we know, and where do we want to go?