Veronika is giving old sawfish trophies a new lease on life by constructing 25 educational cases that will be displayed across Far North Queensland. In doing so, she is hoping to transform these rostra from sawfishes of the past into a symbol of hope and caution that connects communities to the conservation of sawfishes in northern Australia.
Growing up in California and Hawaii, I always felt most at home near the ocean. I became a certified diver at a young age and made sure that family vacations were planned around predicted visibility and the movements of pelagic species. After completing my Master’s degree in medical sciences at Boston University School of Medicine, I moved back to the coast, splitting my time between volunteering in vertebrate fossil curation at the San Diego Natural History Museum and working as a teacher. Ever determined to get back to the water, I took up open water swimming. The murky kelp forests...
The objective of this project is to inform fishers and the general community on how to safely release sawfish in the event of capture, and obtain data on distribution for further analysis.
The protection of sawfish in Queensland requires our immediate attention. Tropical North Queensland remains one of the last strongholds of sawfish populations, and thus the best chance for gathering data and preserving hunting and breeding grounds. The ongoing work by SARA under the lead of Dr. Wueringer (SOSF Keystone Grant 309) has uncovered sawfish still being finned and saws being amputated by commercial and recreational fishers. This project will directly instruct recreational fishers through their potentially fatal interactions with all four species remaining in Australia. Furthermore, these display cases uniquely target both fishers who are specifically targeting sawfish as trophies, and those who are untrained, in proper release methods. As a side benefit, they also educate the general community, creating opportunities for citizen scientists interested in working with SARA on further research.
Globally, sawfish populations are in critical condition. In the last century, ranges have contracted severely. All species are listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The Australian populations of largetooth, dwarf, green and narrow sawfishes are thought to be the last viable populations of these species, and therefore central to global conservation efforts. Conserving small, isolated populations can be difficult because they are not replenished by animals migrating from elsewhere.
The very adaptation that led to sawfishes’ success is now their downfall. Their highly developed rostrum makes sawfish prone to entanglement in fishing nets. While bycatch data suggests that sawfish have a high survival rate upon release, their overall numbers have significantly declined in both reported sightings and by-catch records from the Queensland Shark Control Program. Furthermore, it is unclear how widespread the practise of amputating the saw of sawfish before releasing them is, but saw-less, live sawfish have recently been observed in Western Australian and Queensland waters. Despite reports of sawfish surviving the loss of their saw, they are understandably less able to reproduce and defend themselves without it.
In the Mediterranean, species such as guitarfishes, the spiny butterfly ray and angel sharks are all Critically Endangered or Endangered, making their conservation management vital. Ioannis is using a combination of local knowledge, BRUVs and scuba surveys to search for key aggregation areas and essential habitats for the elasmobranchs of Kos Island in the South Aegean Sea.
Ellen is coordinating the collection of tissue samples from devil rays at key landing and market sites from different countries around the Indian Ocean. Through DNA extraction, she is confirming species identification and investigating the species-specific population structure of otherwise very poorly understood devil rays, and is thus helping to define how their populations are structured across a wide ocean space.
Tanja is learning where the flapper skate moves along the last vestiges of its home range on the Scottish west coast and trying to understand how this affects its genetic diversity. To find out how its declining populations can survive, she is introducing the paternity test to the shark world and exploring whether mating partners, siblings or whole clans are commonly in the same area or if they can be found in different places.