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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. 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.