The Critically Endangered African wedgefish comes with a string of alarming conservation titles: it’s an evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered animal (EDGE) and listed on CITES Appendix II. But in Ghana, where overfishing in the coastal waters in which this ray is predicted to range, precious little is currently known about the African wedgefish. Bernard is aiming to change that by collecting novel information on its population, catches, how it is traded and what its socio-economic value is. The information, he hopes, will help drive a much-needed conservation plan to ensure that, with adequate management, this wedgefish doesn’t disappear from Ghana’s waters.
I am an up-and-coming marine biologist and conservationist with a focus on rays in Ghana. My career goal is to develop research and conservation programmes geared toward the long-term survival and persistence of rays and sharks in Ghana and West Africa. My parents came from coastal villages in Ghana and I have been fascinated by the biodiversity of the ocean since childhood. I visited my parents’ home villages regularly and enjoyed the delicacies that came from the sea. However, I was not aware of the detrimental impacts of our actions until I specialised in wildlife and range management...
The key objective of the project is to provide new and comprehensive data on the population, harvest, trade and socio-economic significance of the African wedgefish so that an action plan to ensure its conservation and persistence in Ghana can be developed. The project will also raise awareness about the conservation of the species and educate fishers about fisheries regulations to help reduce the exploitation of the species.
The project is crucial to the conservation of the African wedgefish, as it will provide significant data on the species’ population, biology, socio-economic relevance and trade, as well as threats to it. These data will help to develop pragmatic interventions and management strategies to safeguard this wedgefish from extinction and protect its habitat. In addition, the data will be used to develop sustainable measures to regulate the exploitation of marine resources for posterity.
The African wedgefish is a globally endangered and evolutionarily distinct marine organism. It is the only species of the family Rhinidae that occurs in West Africa. Its IUCN Red List classification as Critically Endangered and its presence on Appendix II of CITES indicate the urgent need for its conservation and the protection of its habitat. The species’ population has decreased by 90% over the past three generations owing to the high demand for its fins for the international shark fin trade, unregulated fishing activities within its range, and coastal communities’ high demand for protein. Moreover, this alarming decline is due to heavy exploitation by industrial, artisanal and subsistence fisheries, which points to high socio-economic dependency on the species. Fishing resources within West Africa are overexploited, resulting in the depletion of food sources and destruction of the wedgefish’s coastal and shelf habitats. Ghana’s coastal waters fall within its range and it is known to persist here. However, unregulated fishing operations and overexploitation are increasing the risks of it going extinct. Moreover, inadequate research and conservation efforts in Ghana – judging by the lack of time-series data and conservation advocacy programmes – weaken the development and implementation of interventions to safeguard the survival of the species. Therefore, the urgent need to assess its population status, threats and the effects of trade on it cannot be overstated. Following IUCN recommendations, key data from this project will be used to develop a conservation action plan that will ensure the population recovery of the African wedgefish and its long-term persistence in Ghana.
The overall aim of the project is to provide the vital scientific data required to develop the means to avert the extinction of the African wedgefish in Ghana. The project’s objectives are:
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.