Indonesia: a Shark’s Tale

By Dan Rantzen, Assistant Director Indonesia Human Development Section and the Australia Awards Indonesia team.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is strong and continues to grow. A key focus for DFAT this year will be concluding a deal to increase trade and investment opportunities between our two countries. We are also fostering research collaboration to find solutions to shared problems.

Meet Muhammad Arif Rahman, an Indonesian marine scientist who studied the effects of magnets in deterring sharks from entering Tasmanian fishing grounds as a recipient of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

shark alumnus photo2

Australia Awards are prestigious international scholarships funded by the Australian Government offering the next generation of leaders in selected countries an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development.

Rahman’s innovative research is supporting both the Australian and Indonesian fishing industries as well as the conservation of sharks. His experiments have added greatly to the growing body of international research measuring how sharks behave around powerful magnets. This research will help fishermen sustain their hauls and protect sharks from becoming incidental catch.

Growing up in the East Javanese town of Lamongan, Rahman didn’t give much thought to sharks until he chose marine fishery studies at the University of Brawijaya and found he loved it.

While studying for his Master’s degree in Applied Science (Marine Environment) at the University of Tasmania as an Australia Awards recipient, the 32-year-old noticed many local lobster fishermen were having difficulties with sharks entering their lobster traps.

The sharks were attracted to the bait and the lobsters, but then became trapped themselves. And of course lobsters wouldn’t enter traps if a shark were present.

Rahman knew sharks had the ability to detect weak electromagnetic fields. His research found there was only so much they could tolerate, with strong electromagnetic waves triggering discomfort that drove them away.

Rahman hopes to undertake similar research in Indonesia, where many traditional fishermen use longline fishing and have also reported the intrusion of sharks.

He also wants to research the characteristics and population of Indonesia’s pelagic fish – those living neither close to the bottom nor near the shore – such as tuna.  Indonesia would benefit from such research because the highest catches in Indonesian waters are from pelagic species.

The use of magnets in fishery management is just one example of Rahman’s education in Australia giving him new perspectives. As a lecturer, he has been exposed to new teaching methods and has a renewed appreciation of the importance of practical work for his students.

Indeed, practical observation was at the heart of his study in Australia, which he completed in 2016. Rahman credits his supervisors at the University of Tasmania with always being open to discussion, besides mentoring the theoretical aspects of his thesis.

Rahman is a great example of how Australia Awards Scholarships are forging enduring economic and people-to-people linkages for the benefit of both countries.

Find out more about the Australia Awards scholarship program.

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