Opinions, Tan Lili

No More Sambal Stingray…? – Tan Lili

If you’re a fan of this local BBQ hawker dish, you might want to brace yourselves for what you’re about to read. Tan Lili explains.

As a subscriber of several pro-conservation email news alerts, and what with Shark Week happening this Sunday (August 10), my inbox has been filled with quite a number of shark-related newsletters. From them, the consensus is that the situation hasn’t gotten any better; many species of sharks are still endangered, and the demand for shark fins is still atrociously high. On the bright side, the anti-shark finning campaign is thankfully gaining worldwide awareness and acceptance – in Singapore, for instance, the list of companies supporting the ban on shark fin trade has been growing year after year.

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Now, what threw me for a loop was the following piece of news.

According to a recent first-ever global assessment of marine species led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are now facing a very real threat of total wipe-out, with rays at a higher risk. In fact, only 23 percent of both animals are listed under the IUCN Red List’s “least concern” category. (Note: there are many categories under the Red List.) The biggest threat is overfishing, and while most of the catches are unintentional, the developing markets for sharks and rays certainly do not bode well for their future. Not to mention, the relatively slow reproduction of these animals leaves them more vulnerable to overfishing.

And here comes the kicker: “Surprisingly, we have found that the rays, including sawfish, guitarfish, stingrays and wedgefish, are generally worse off than the sharks, with five out of the seven most-threatened families made up of rays,” says Colin Simpfendorfer, co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. “While public, media and government attention to the plight of sharks is growing, the widespread depletion of rays is largely unnoticed. Conservation action for rays is lagging far behind, which only heightens our concern for this species group.” Sharks and rays – two of the world’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals – are known as cartilaginous fish, whose skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bone.


I have been so caught up in the world of sharks, I had no idea rays were facing an even bigger problem. Probably the rays we are most familiar with are stingrays. There are around 70 stingray species, under which 45 are considered threatened. To say I’m mildly disturbed would be an understatement because I LOVE sambal stingray, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to give a shit about this; the far-reaching consequences of the loss of one species on biodiversity are too much to bear.

I hope more studies will be made on rays so we can better understand their plight and amp up conservation efforts, like how we’re currently doing with sharks. In the meantime – even though we can’t know for sure the species of stingray served at BBQ hawker stalls – sambal stingray shall be removed from my list of favourite hawker dishes. Wanna join me?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.