Mercedes is visiting the ports and fish landing sites of twelve ports in Peru. She records and collects samples as the fishers unload their catches, searching for guitarfishes. Mercedes is keen to work with the natural curiosity of the fishers who want to know more about her work and use these interactions to get more information and involve fishers in this research. This way, her project can provide an understanding of how and where guitarfishes are being caught along the Peruvian coast.
My first experience of marine species was when I was a child. I saw a sticker placed on my refrigerator that showed a dolphin with a cross and a message that said ‘Don’t eat muchame‘. It took me several years to learn what ‘muchame‘ meant, which refers to a way of preparing dolphin meat in Peru. It was wonderful how this little message made me wonder about other marine species that were not as charismatic as dolphins. My curiosity and the desire to learn more about marine species every day led me to study a career in science and fisheries...
The aim of this project is to record information about the fishery and trade of guitarfish in Peru and to find out which species are involved so that they can be effectively managed.
The National Plan for the Conservation and Management of Elasmobranchs in Peru is in the process of being reviewed and implemented. However, we know little about guitarfish and although landings of guitarfish species remain low, these elasmobranchs play an important role in the ecosystem. Moreover, it has not been confirmed how many species are involved and this information is necessary for management measures. Our research aims to fill this gap and contribute to the conservation of the guitarfish species involved.
Peru has registered five species of guitarfish. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, four of them are listed as Data Deficient and one as Near Threatened. Guitarfish are caught mainly during the southern summer by fishers working along the Peruvian coast. These species have been eaten from ancient times to the present day, and guitarfish is one of the most requested traditional dishes in northern Peru. However, although the literature identifies the presence of five species in Peru, we do not know the species that are caught by fishers or whether the current level of landings is affecting guitarfish populations. Data gaps relating to the correct identification of guitarfish and which species are being caught make it difficult to apply adequate fisheries management. Therefore this project aims to generate a baseline for the correct identification and fisheries data of guitarfish, so that they can be incorporated into the National Action Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, Rays and Related Species in Peru (NAP Peru). It also aims to study future trends so that decision-makers can address the problem and propose fisheries management measures to ensure the fishery is sustainable. However, the trade in guitarfish provides economic income to artisanal fishers at several locations, so any conservation measures proposed also need to take into account the effects that may follow for humans.
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.