After 15 years of presumed extinction, Armelle is working with local communities to save the region’s remaining population of sawfishes – the world’s most endangered marine fish.
As a French marine biologist based at the oceanographic research centre in Brest, north-western France, I first focused on sharks 15 years ago, when I embarked on a project on basking shark ecology and movement patterns. I am now involved in the organisation Des Requins et des Hommes (DRDH; Sharks and Humans), which aims to bring shark conservation and human activity closer together in some of the areas that are most critical for elasmobranchs.
My interest in sawfishes developed during a year-long sailing trip in western Africa, which presented me with a unique opportunity...
To evaluate the status of the Pristidae and reverse the balance trend in the sawfish population of western Africa (CSRP area) by increasing biological knowledge and promoting self-governance.
Sawfishes are considered the most endangered elasmobranchs, listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN. Their population has been severely depleted due to habitat degradation, fisheries, bycatch and trade of by-products, such as rostra, teeth and fins. However, sawfishes are a part of the rich cultural history among the people of this region, and we aim to use public outreach and education to reconstruct the former and current distribution and abundance of sawfishes. Immediate action is required to better determine the status of the species in the region and to initiate biological studies to provide the data needed to establish management and restoration plans.
The assembled team is well-versed in outreach having already established similar reporting networks and education initiatives associated with the International Sawfish Encounter Database, International Shark Attack File, Elasmobranch National reporting programs in Europe and moreover the western Africa sub-regional plan of action for elasmobranchs (data collection framework, training sessions).
AFRICASAW has three main objectives:
By trawling the fish markets and landing sites of Ghana’s coastline, Issah is surveying the patterns in catch composition over time for sharks and rays in artisanal fisheries. In doing so, he is also raising awareness about the best fishing practices that safeguard sharks and rays and garnering fishers’ support for sharks and the conservation of ocean ecosystems in Ghana.
Juan is collecting environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from the estuaries and mangroves of Colombia’s Chocó region. He is uncovering the presence and distribution of largetooth sawfishes on the Colombian Pacific coast by detecting traces of their DNA left behind as signatures in their environment. The Critically Endangered largetooth sawfish – known locally as ‘El Guacapa’ – is typically found in estuaries and thought to be resident in some of Central and South America’s freshwater systems. Knowing exactly where this sawfish occurs is critical to its conservation.
Few data exist to explain where (and how many) sawfishes are still found in Costa Rica. Mario’s
project will use traditional fishing techniques in combination with eDNA (traces of sawfish DNA left behind in the environment) sampling to document where the last habitats for sawfishes can be found in Costa Rica. He hopes to involve community leaders, fishers and local educators in the creation of education programmes that will empower people to conserve sawfishes locally and help inform proper management protocols to save the species.