Conserving largetooth sawfish on the Amazonian coast

  • Rays & Skates
Years funded
  • 2023, 2024
  • Active
Project type
  • Research

Potentially one of the few remaining strongholds of the largetooth sawfish, the sandbanks, mangroves and murky waters along the coastline influenced by the Amazon River is where Patricia and Vincente are searching for this Critically Endangered species. Although it is still caught and traded in this region, despite conservation restrictions, the largetooth sawfish is feared by fishers and poorly understood. Patricia and Vincente hope to change that: they will use environmental DNA to confirm its presence, engage with fishers through workshops and meetings, increase public awareness of it and train law enforcement officers to combat the illegal trade with the latest science.

Conserving largetooth sawfish on the Amazonian coast

Patricia Charvet

Project leader
About the project leader

I have wanted to work with sharks and rays since I was a teenager. I am not sure how the passion for these magnificent animals began, but it probably started because I have been fascinated by the ocean and its creatures from childhood. As an undergraduate biology student, I wanted to study and understand them even more. When I started my Master´s studies in Belém, northern Brazil, I wanted to work with sawfish in that region, but my MSc counsellor persuaded me to focus on freshwater stingrays instead, on account of the challenges posed by field work on...

Conserving largetooth sawfish on the Amazonian coast

Vincente Faria

Project leader
About the project leader

I have been involved in elasmobranch research since my first year as an undergraduate, taking full advantage of being enrolled in a university dedicated to cutting-edge science – the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense Darcy Ribeiro (UENF), in northern Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil. There I had the privilege of studying both sharks (as part of research into artificial reefs using drift nets and a local artisanal fishing boat) and batoids (as part of research into concentrations of heavy metals using bottom-trawl nets and a Brazilian Navy research vessel). My training in elasmobranch research continued at UENF...

PROJECT LOCATION : Northern South America
Project details

Turning the Tide for Sawfish in the Amazonian Coast

Key objective

This project’s key objective is to understand the conservation status of the largetooth sawfish on the Amazonian coast, northern South America, promoting its conservation and recovery through research and awareness and educational activities for the public in general and specific professionals.

Why is this important

Little is known about the largetooth sawfish off a coast influenced by the Amazon River. Sandbanks, mangroves and murky waters seem to shelter these magnificent rays and scientists believe that this region is one of the species’ last strongholds in the world. In this region sawfish are feared by fishers and poorly known and understood by the people. This species is caught incidentally and parts of it are still illegally traded in the region.


Sawfish are among the most threatened shark relatives globally. They are magnificent shark-like rays with a toothed rostrum (‘saw’-fish) that combine several characteristics that are, unfortunately, causing their populations to decline due to human activities. Their distribution in global tropical coastal waters puts them in close contact with people in developing countries that lack effective fisheries management. Populations from each of the five sawfish species have collapsed in most parts of the world. One of the few strongholds for the largetooth sawfish is the northern/equatorial coast of South America. However, despite the inferred importance of this region for sawfish, there are several knowledge gaps, including where in the area they still occur, and threats and trends. This project aims to address these issues by carrying out eDNA sampling for sawfish. This will be done in the Amazon estuary region and will contribute vital information about the species’ presence and habitat use that can be applied to sawfish conservation. Our project will also address management and conservation challenges relating to enforcement and awareness. This will be carried out along the Amazonian coast, mainly in the Brazilian states of Amapá, Pará and Maranhão, but whenever possible will be extended to neighbouring countries. Fisheries data will be obtained from interviews with fishers and traders. Stakeholders will be called upon to draw attention to the decline of sawfish in the region. Training will be offered to law enforcement agents. Fishery leaders will be encouraged to get involved in efforts to revive and protect sawfish populations. Scientists and teachers, especially those in fishing communities, will receive training to include sawfish conservation issues in their daily activities. Lectures will be provided for the general public and an exhibition on sawfish conservation will be set up in the main natural history museum of the Amazon region.

Aims & objectives

I want to understand where the largetooth sawfish used to be found and where they are still present along the Amazonian coast, and to carry out research and educational activities in order to protect them. To do this, I will need to:

  • Gather all the information I can about them in the Amazon estuary region, where they occurred and are still seen, and whether they are being caught.
  • Use eDNA techniques to confirm their presence and discover where they occur and move to and whether they use the mangroves and sandbanks and mudbanks as shelters.
  • Increase awareness about sawfish and the need to conserve them among the general public and the fishing community, and encourage fishery leaders, stakeholders and authorities to work together to revive and protect sawfish populations.
  • Train enforcement agents from various agencies (such as customs and environmental) and with different backgrounds on how to identify sawfish-related products that are still being illegally transported, marketed or smuggled.