Who I am
Twenty years ago I became involved in elasmobranch research by accident. I realised my passion when I saw the top predator of the ocean becoming the prey of human beings. Knowing that education was key, I believed that trust should be built between conservationists and communities so that we can communicate the importance of protecting species and habitats and explain that conservation offers a better future by ensuring the sustainability of community livelihoods by prioritising ecosystem services.
Where I work
Indonesia is known to have the highest diversity of rays in the world, including sawfishes. Between 1969 and 1971 more than 150 sawfishes were caught in gill nets in the waters of Lake Sentani–Papua. There is, however, no record of sawfishes having been caught since 1974. In 2016 the Indonesian government stopped the illegal trade of 53 sawfish rostrums, which indicates that sawfishes may still survive in Indonesian waters. While this is good news, the shortage of science-based information about sawfishes remains a challenge. Because of this, and because these species are vulnerable to becoming extinct, I decided to investigate the current status of sawfishes in Indonesia. In general, sawfishes have been caught incidentally in gill nets, and reports of their capture by traditional fishers have come from central Indonesia, such as Kalimantan Island and the eastern part of Papua province. Both these locations support habitat suitable for sawfishes, such as healthy mangrove forests and water of good quality.
What I do
The impacts of global climate change, habitat degradation, pollution, the introduction of non-native species and commercial exploitation all contribute to the high level of threat that could result in the extinction of sawfishes. These diverse factors are also likely to play a role in the decline of sawfish populations in Indonesian waters. At the same time, the species’ biological characteristics, such asslow growth rate, long lifespan and low fecundity, make the situation worse. Because of this, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) has listed sawfishes on Appendix I, which means that the species can be caught only for research purposes and cannot be traded. They are also categorised on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
In Indonesia, all the sawfish species are protected under state laws and regulations through Ministerial Decrees ‘SK Mentan No.716 / Kpts / Um / 10/80 1999’, which relate to the preservation of plant and animal species. There is, however, no science-based information that confirms the existence of sawfishes in Indonesia. This study has five primary aims: to conduct field surveys based on recent and historical sawfish catches; to raise public awareness of local and regional partners in sawfish conservation; to collect genetic samples of marine sawfish rostrums; to implement a network of allies for sawfishes; and to develop awareness of the plight of sawfishes and build capacity to counter it at different community levels. The study will also collect data about sawfish by-catch and feed them into national and regional statistics. Secondary data, such as traditional knowledge, will be collected by using questionnaires to interview all stakeholders, including local people and fishers in Muara Kintap–West Kalimantan and Merauke–Jayapura–Papua province.