Project

Protecting rhino-rays in the world’s largest bay

Species
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2021
Status
  • Active
Project type
  • Conservation
Description

Alifa’s long-standing work along south-eastern Bangladesh has led her to work with policy-makers and fishers to increase their understanding of the importance of ‘rhino-rays’ (guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes). She has gained ecological knowledge from local fishers and her own surveys, which she hopes to use to identify their key habitats around Bangladesh. After expanding her work to south-western Bangladesh, and having focused on sawfish conservation for many years, Alifa understands that declines in sawfish may point to similar concerns for rhino-rays. This is propelling her towards establishing an education programme for the conservation of sawfish and rhino-rays in Bangladesh.

Protecting rhino-rays in the world’s largest bay

Alifa Bintha Haque

Project leader
About the project leader

Working for marine conservation is a passion I came upon rather than one that I have grown up with. I was born and brought up in an urban jungle within a conventional social setting. I didn’t know what to do with my zoology degree until I started visiting St Martin’s Island, a region of Bangladesh that is the least explored in terms of marine biodiversity, although 70% of its inhabitants depend on the sea. I realised that conservation is not a goal to achieve but a path to follow and that, whether solutions are being sought, education is being contemplated...

PROJECT LOCATION : Bangladesh
Project details

Preventing the local extinction risk of Glaucostegus granulatus (sharpnose guitarfish) in Bangladesh

Key objective

We aim prepare a holistic science-based management regime for the sharpnose guitarfish. We plan to map the fishing grounds/habitats, understand the fishing characteristics and fishers’ dependence on such fisheries, map the trade routes and hubs to facilitate better compliance from fishers to mitigate fishing mortality and trade on these species.

Why is this important

Alarmingly rhino-rays have undergone a significant decline in the Bay of Bengal due to unnoticed overexploitation and unmonitored international trade. The main challenge for an inclusive sustainable model that incorporates socio-ecological complexities and the livelihood options of fishers will be to address the gap between science and policy and also poverty and conflicting conservation actions. We plan to tackle it by bridging these gaps through rigorous science and involvement of the stakeholders in this process.

Background

Giant guitarfishes, guitarfishes, wedgefishes are one of the most globally threatened cartilaginous fishes, almost all of which are Critically Endangered. They are an important element of the Bangladeshi coastal artisanal fisheries, however, a holistic understanding of these fisheries and trade is limited. Tremendous pressure from fisheries overlapping their habitats and lack of research impeded timely conservation actions resulting in unnoticed depletions.  There was no targeted research for these species before our efforts from 2016. Our results from an ongoing project have shown that catch and trade on rhino-rays in Bangladesh is a common practice for decades. All of the near-shore shallow waters in Bangladesh are utilized by a fleet of vessels using an array of unselected gears. This exerts substantial pressure on rhino ray populations in their habitats through both by-caught and target fishery meeting the increasing demand in the meat and fin industry. Results also found that the landing/populations have declined substantially for Glaucostegus typus, Rhina ancylostoma, Rhinobatos annandalei, and most importantly Rhynchobatus spp. have been perceived as extremely rare with no sighting in the last 8-9 years. Furthermore, population declines and disproportionate catch of juveniles indicate ongoing unsustainable rhino ray fisheries. It was clear from our studies that the pressure from the fin trade has increased on other rhino-rays especially Glaucostegus granulatus for its comparatively bigger fins and international demand, increasing the risk of local extirpation.  To promote sustainable rhino-ray fishery practices stabilizing these populations, we plan to take a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle the problem in a developing country context. While the iconic sharpnose guitarfish is the flagship species of our project, we are taking a joint scientific and community partnership approach with local communities and state agencies, to ensure their survival and creating an example for all rhino-rays at the brink of extinction from our waters.

Aims & objectives

The main goal of the proposed project is to minimising extinction risk of sharpnose guitarfish in Bangladesh by strategic research, inclusive and improved fisheries management, limiting trade and habitat protection by answering three questions:

  1. What are the particular actions necessary for fisheries and trade management?
  2. Where do we need to implement these strategies?
  3. Who are the stakeholders to work with?

In doing so we will be characterising the fisheries, trade and habitats of sharpnose guitarfish as a flagship for all rhino-rays to finally strategies an inclusive conservation strategy embedded in scientific evidence and stakeholders’ perception for sustainability beyond the capacity of the project and effectiveness on the ground.