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.
Demian’s team is developing tools that help border control officers identify illegal shark products. His project is sifting through ‘rhino ray’ DNA sequences looking for differences in code between the guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes nicknamed for their pointy snouts (and Endangered status). Months of testing will help ensure only rhino ray DNA is targeted before the team flies to Hong Kong to help officials use a portable DNA tester. This project will add to the arsenal currently being used to identify illegal shark fins moving across borders, and help stop the trafficking of ‘rhino ray’ fins.
Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.
Ali is collaborating with researchers across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to develop support tools for guitarfish conservation. As an advocate, much of her work is completed behind a computer and locked in meetings, but her goal is to help bring awareness to the Threatened status of guitarfish in the Mediterranean. As the current Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, Ali represents a large number of regional partners to engage with governments, develop new resources and coordinate guitarfish conservation activities.