Environmental DNA (eDNA) Analysis: An Emerging, Innovative Method for Monitoring Biodiversity of Sharks and Rays in the Pacific


USP PEUMP Research Fellow, Dr. Kerstin Glaus holds a capsule containing a filter with captured genetic material after eDNA sampling, ready for DNA extraction.

Suva, June 29th 2023: As sharks and rays shed DNA into their environments, eDNA analysis can provide clues about their presence without disrupting the ecosystem.

Sharks and rays are of high ecological, economic, and cultural relevance. Unfortunately, they are also among the most threatened species in the marine environment. About one-third of these species face an increased risk of extinction, while nearly half are classified as data deficient. The rapid decline in shark and ray populations can have significant ecological consequences.

Current published data on shark and ray biodiversity in Oceania is limited. To address this gap, the USP Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) project, funded by the European Union (EU) and the Government of Sweden, is conducting the first focused regional exploration of shark and ray biodiversity using a cutting-edge method called environmental DNA (eDNA). Led by Dr. Kerstin Glaus, this project aims to provide essential insights into the diversity of sharks and rays in Pacific Island Countries to support conservation efforts.

Environmental DNA refers to the genetic material extracted from environmental samples like soil, water, or air. The underlying principle of eDNA is that organisms continuously release DNA into their surroundings through various biological materials, such as skin cells, faeces, urine, or mucus. This genetic material can persist in the environment for a certain period, allowing scientists to collect and analyze it to identify the presence of specific organisms.

Moreover, environmental DNA analysis offers a non-invasive, comprehensive, and cost-effective approach to monitor and understand biodiversity, detect invasive species, and assess environmental changes. It has the potential to revolutionize ecological research, conservation practices, and the management of natural resources. As a relatively new and powerful tool in environmental monitoring and biodiversity assessment, eDNA has gained significant attention.

The eDNA assessment will be carried out in Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Rotuma and Timor Leste as part of the PEUMP project.

USP is one of four key implementing partners of the EUR 45million PEUMP Programme, which aims to promote sustainable management and sound ocean governance for food security and economic growth while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity. It follows a comprehensive approach, integrating issues related to ocean fisheries, coastal fisheries, community development, marine conservation and capacity building under one single regional action. The PEUMP project is housed within the Institute of Marine Resources within the School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS).

About us

The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme addresses some of the most serious challenges faced by Pacific countries. Among these are the increasing depletion of coastal fisheries resources; the threats to marine biodiversity, including negative impacts of climate change and disasters; the uneven contribution of oceanic fisheries to national economic development; the need for improved education and training; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues to ensure inclusiveness and positive changes for Pacific island people.  The seven-year PEUMP programme is funded by the European Union (EUR 35 million) and the government of Sweden (EUR 10 million). It is implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in close collaboration with Non-Government Organisations and the national authorities.

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