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.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.