Alifa’s long-standing project along south-eastern Bangladesh has involved working 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 will help her identify the key habitats of rhino rays 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.
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...
We aim to prepare a holistic, science-based management regime for the sharpnose guitarfish. To achieve this, we plan to map the fishing grounds for this species as well as its habitats; understand the methods and gear used by fisheries targeting this species as well as the fishers’ dependence on catching it; map trade routes and hubs to encourage fishers to comply with mitigating fish mortality and trade in this and other rhino ray species.
Rhino rays have suffered an alarming decline in the Bay of Bengal due to unnoticed overexploitation and unmonitored international trade. The main challenge for a sustainable model that incorporates socio-ecological complexities and the livelihood options of fishers will be to address the gaps between science and policy and between poverty and conflicting conservation actions. We plan to bridge these gaps by means of rigorous science and by involving all the stakeholders in the process.
Giant guitarfish, guitarfish and wedgefish are among the most globally threatened cartilaginous fish species, almost all of which are Critically Endangered. They are important to Bangladeshi coastal artisanal fisheries, but a holistic understanding of the fisheries targeting them and the trade in them is limited. Tremendous pressure from fisheries that overlap the species’ habitats and a lack of research impede timely conservation actions, resulting in unnoticed population declines. Before we began our work in 2016, there was no targeted research into these species. Our results from an ongoing project have shown that catching and trading in rhino rays has been common in Bangladesh for decades. Vessels using different types of fishing gear are active in all Bangladesh’s nearshore shallow waters, putting substantial pressure on rhino ray populations, as the fish are both targeted and caught unintentionally and their meat and fins are sold to meet the increasing demand for them. We have also learnt that landings and populations of giant guitarfish Glaucostegus typus, bowmouth guitarfish Rhina ancylostoma and Annandale’s guitarfish Rhinobatos annandalei have declined substantially and, most importantly, that wedgefish Rhynchobatus species have been perceived as extremely rare, with no sightings in the past eight or nine years. Furthermore, population declines and the disproportionate catching of juveniles indicate that the ongoing rhino ray fisheries are unsustainable. It was clear from our studies that the pressure from the fin trade has increased on other rhino rays, especially the sharpnose guitarfish Glaucostegus granulatus because of its comparatively bigger fins. The international demand for this species is high and the risk that it will become locally extinct is growing. To promote sustainable rhino ray fishery practices that will allow these populations to stabilise, we plan to take a multi-disciplinary approach in the context of a developing country. With the sharpnose guitarfish as our project’s flagship species, we aim to propose a fisheries management regime based on sound science that will involve partnerships with local communities and state agencies, and in this way ensure the survival of rhino rays that are on the brink of extinction in Bangladeshi waters.
The main goal of the project is to minimise the risk of sharpnose guitarfish going extinct in Bangladesh by providing strategic research on which inclusive and improved fisheries management can be based, limiting trade and protecting habitat. To achieve this, three questions need to be answered:
With the sharpnose guitarfish as a flagship – and taking into account the fishery, trade and habitats of the species – we will use it as a model for all rhino rays in Bangladesh and will work out an inclusive conservation strategy that is based on scientific evidence and how stakeholders perceive rhino ray fisheries can be sustainable beyond the lifespan of our project.
Anna is collecting genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this species’ population size in South Africa. Using close-kin mark-recapture analysis instead of traditional methods, she hopes to provide an accurate account of South Africa’s white shark population size. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can use genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. This information is needed in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species is balanced against concerns about bather safety, and where sharks are caught in bather protection gear.
Faqih is filling the gaps in the scant knowledge of giant guitarfish in Java’s Karimunjawa National Park marine protected area (MPA). Karimunjawa is located near Northern Java’s main fishing grounds, but evidence of giant guitarfish caught in some of the use-zones of the MPA hints that the park may be a sanctuary for the species. Managing giant guitarfish in Karimunjawa requires species-specific information.
Faqih’s project is a socio-ecological one to help inform management and draws on new information about relative abundance and distribution, historical occurrence and fishing pressures to paint a contemporary picture of the species in the park.
Cindy wants to know if bonnethead sharks in the Eastern Pacific constitute a third, cryptic species. The Bonnethead complex need clarification in all its distribution range, and Panama is a key country to solve this question since we have the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean. By collecting fin clip samples to compare species at the genetic level and collecting specimens to compare how they look (morphology), Cindy hopes to resolve the taxonomy of Sphyrna tiburo vespertina – that is, whether it’s a cryptic third species for bonnetheads in the region. Her information can help update the IUCN Red List for bonnetheads and improve fisheries policies in Latin America where bonnethead sharks are commonly caught.