Re-writing the sawfish story: Inspiring community driven conservation of sawfishes in Papua New Guinea

  • Rays & Skates
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2021
  • Active
Project types
  • Conservation
  • Research

Michael is dedicated to the conservation of Papua New Guinea’s sawfishes, and in providing materials for children so that they understand their incredible natural inheritance. For this project, his fieldwork entails observing fishing activity at each fishing village as the team travels through remote Papua New Guinea. He wants to harness local knowledge through interviews about sawfishes and their cultural uses, fishing, and how communities value sharks and rays. The idea is to put together a picture of Papua New Guinea’s small-scale fisheries, and document the distribution and population status of some of the world’s most threatened sharks and rays.

Re-writing the sawfish story: Inspiring community driven conservation of sawfishes in Papua New Guinea

Michael Grant

Project leader
About the project leader

My interest in marine biology began as a child when I used to go fishing with my father. We would frequently holiday on the northern New South Wales coast in Australia and spent much of this time looking for the best fishing spots for the highly prized mulloway. Thinking about and identifying environmental factors that made good fishing spots sparked my interest in various aspects of marine biology and large predator ecology. And I became obsessed: bull sharks were easily my favourite species. I was fascinated that they could live in freshwater and marine environments! In high school, this interest...

PROJECT LOCATION : Papua New Guinea, Gulf of Papua
Project details

Re-writing the sawfish story: Inspiring community driven conservation of sawfishes in Papua New Guinea

Key objective

Produce an interactive children’s book on PNG’s sawfish that can be disseminated to remote schools and communities where sawfish occur. Additionally, we are looking to develop a PNG appropriate safe release guide for sawfish to encourage the live release of unrequired catches.

Why is this important

Sawfish have disappeared from much of their former range throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific. Populations remain in Papua New Guinea, but recent surveys suggest populations are declining due to capture in small-scale fisheries targeting more valued teleost fish. There is a need to raise awareness for sawfish, and encourage fishing communities to release captured sawfish alive in instances they are not required for immediate food and economic needs.


All four Indo-Pacific sawfish species occur in Papua New Guinea indicating that the nation may be one of the last remaining strongholds for these species. However, recent surveys indicate that populations are declining. This is primarily due to the preference for gillnetting by small-scale fishers throughout coastal and riverine environments of Papua New Guinea. Sawfish were not found to be important to local fishers food or economic requirements. Rather sawfish are consumed or sold opportunistically if required when incidentally caught by fishers targeting more valued teleost species. The prominent issue is that mortality is high regardless of any intended use by fishers, because sawfish are often killed, or have their rostrum removed to untangle from nets.  The conservation of sawfishes in Papua New Guinea is challenging, as different communities have different uses and values towards them. This makes it challenging to develop conservation initiatives that are appropriate to a range of cultural contexts. Conservation awareness for the Pig-nose turtle, however, has achieved engagement from communities in the culturally diverse Kikori River, through outreach to children using a local NGO, The Piku Biodiversity Network. Access to educational material is very limited in many regions of Papua New Guinea, and communities are interested to learn more about the environments they live in so they are more informed about threats that logging, mining, and fishing may present. Therefore, our project identifies that education material for resource-limited schools presents a shared value, transcending communities that otherwise have different attitudes and values toward sawfish. Meanwhile, a pictorial safe release guide is intended for older active fishers, to encourage the live release of unrequired sawfish catch. This project will partner with the Piku Biodiversity Network, and by focusing on multiple generations, we aim to initiate a shift in attitudes toward sawfish in PNG.

Aims & objectives

Working closely with the Piku Biodiversity Network, and Dr Madeline Green and Dr William White from CSIRO, this project aims to produce an interactive children’s book, that raises awareness for sawfishes susceptibility to population declines from fisheries, and educates readers about their threatened status and ecological role. The narrative of this story will follow a typical migration pattern of the largetooth sawfish as it leaves its freshwater juvenile nursey and migrates downriver to the coast. Four ‘sawfish fact’ pages will also be included about the state of sawfish in PNG and globally, and will detail aspects of their biology such as morphological features, diversity, and ecological role. Additionally, interactive activity pages will be included such as mazes, find-a-words, and other material designed to reinforce conservation themes in the story. We will also produce a safe release guide for sawfish catch, tailored to fishing methods and vessels used in small-scale fisheries in PNG.