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. 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.
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...
The project’s main aim is to produce an interactive children’s book on the sawfish of Papua New Guinea that can be distributed to remote schools and communities where sawfish occur. We are also looking to develop a safe-release guide for sawfish that is appropriate for Papua New Guinea and will encourage the live release of sawfish catches that are not required.
Sawfish have disappeared from much of their former range throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific. Populations remain in Papua New Guinea, but recent surveys suggest that they are declining due to sawfish being inadvertently caught in small-scale fisheries targeting more valued teleost fish. There is a need to raise awareness about sawfish and encourage fishing communities to release captured sawfish alive when they are not required for immediate food and economic needs.
All four Indo-Pacific sawfish species occur in Papua New Guinea, which suggests that the nation may be one of the last remaining strongholds for these species. However, recent surveys indicate that their populations are declining. This is primarily because of the small-scale fishers’ preference for using gill nets throughout the coastal and riverine environments of Papua New Guinea. Sawfish were not found to be important for local food or economic requirements, but they may be consumed or sold opportunistically when they are caught incidentally by fishers targeting more valued teleost species. The prominent issue is that mortality is high regardless of what fishers intend to do with them because any sawfish caught are often killed or have their rostrum removed so they can be disentangled from nets. The conservation of sawfish in Papua New Guinea is challenging because different communities have different uses for them and different values with respect to them. This makes it challenging to develop conservation initiatives that are appropriate to a range of cultural contexts. However, outreach to children using a local NGO, the Piku Biodiversity Network, has made communities in the culturally diverse Kikori River aware of the need to conserve the pig-nose turtle. Although access to educational material is very limited in many regions of Papua New Guinea, communities are keen to learn more about the environments they live in so that they are more informed about threats that logging, mining and fishing may present. Our project identifies that education material for resource-limited schools presents a shared value, transcending communities’ disparate attitudes and values toward sawfish. At the same time, a pictorial guide to releasing sawfish safely is intended for older active fishers to encourage them to release alive sawfish they catch but do not want. This project will partner with the Piku Biodiversity Network and, by focusing on multiple generations, we aim to initiate a shift in attitude towards sawfish in Papua New Guinea.
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 will raise awareness of how sawfish are susceptible to population declines as a result of fishing and will educate readers about their ecological role and threatened status. The narrative of this story will follow a typical migration pattern of a largetooth sawfish as it leaves its freshwater juvenile nursery and travels downriver to the coast. Four ‘sawfish fact’ pages will describe the state of sawfish in Papua New Guinea and globally, and will detail aspects of their biology such as morphological features, their diversity and their ecological role. 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 guide to releasing caught sawfish safely that is tailored to fishing methods and vessels used in small-scale fisheries in Papua New Guinea.
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.