Searching for the river sharks and rays of Borneo

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

Andrew and field researcher Michael Grant will be scouring rivers, local fish markets and landing sites to increase scientific attention on the threatened river sharks and rays of Borneo. Before they go searching for sharks, his team are starting with people: developing relationships with local collaborating Hasanuddin University, and contacting fisheries officers and fishers to collate information on sightings and record data. Their expedition will catch, measure and sample river sharks, as well as record environmental data to assess what habitats these animals prefer. In so doing, this collaborative team will shed new light on this biodiversity hotspot near the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’.

Searching for the river sharks and rays of Borneo

Andrew Chin

Project leader
About the project leader

My fascination for fish and fisheries, especially sharks, began in South-East Asia, where I was born and raised. I acted upon this fascination when I moved to Australia and have been working in marine research since the 1990s, initially in marine ecotourism and subsequently for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on coral reef surveys, impact assessments and environmental monitoring for 10 years. I edited the State of the Great Barrier Reef Report and am currently an editor for the journal Pacific Conservation Biology. My research focuses on coastal ecology and fisheries, particularly sharks and rays, interdisciplinary fisheries...

Project details

Searching for the river sharks and rays of Borneo

Key objective

This project aims to help conserve river sharks and rays in Borneo, an incredibly diverse but little-studied area under increasing threat. We aim to (1) find and identify rare river sharks and rays, (2) assess the threats they’re facing, and (3) work with local partners to identify realistic conservation options.

Why is this important

Indonesian Borneo is among the world’s most iconic UNESCO World Heritage regions. However, by 2050 the capital of Indonesia will be relocated to East Kalimantan, massively increasing human population density and pressures on Borneo’s river environments through small-scale fishing and commercial developments. Our project will provide baseline information for risk assessments and conservation planning associated with the relocation of the Indonesian capital to inform adequate protection of Borneo’s riverine sharks and rays.


Borneo Island supports the largest expanse of rainforest in Southeast Asia and is world-renowned for its iconic UNESCO recognized Biodiversity Heritage. However, the Indonesian government’s intention to relocate its national capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan Province by 2050 raises serious conservation concerns. Immigration of people to Borneo will place high pressures on the Islands natural resources, due to urban expansion and the inherent necessity for water (consumption, irrigation, and commercial use), agricultural land, waste disposal (sewage, commercial, and public) and transport infrastructure.  Approximately 118 species of sharks and rays are known from Borneo. Among these are relatively rare river sharks and rays, including three ray species that only live in freshwater (white-edged whipray, roughback whipray, and marbled whipray), and four generalist species like the bull shark and giant freshwater whipray, and species believed to be the Ganges River shark and largetooth sawfish. All these species are currently all assessed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and the Ganges river shark and largetooth sawfish are Critically Endangered. However, the river sharks and rays of this area are little studied and there are species identifications that need to be confirmed that could be globally important records. For example, we have recently observed river shark (Glyphis) fins for sale, coming from freshwaters of Eastern Borneo. These fins may represent an unknown population of Glyphis gangeticus (formally described as Glyphis fowlerae in Borneo), or maybe from an undescribed species. There is a fourth species of Glyphis genus known from the Mukah River in Malaysia Borneo, and possibly also the Sampit River in Central Kalimantan. However, this species has yet to be formally described, due to its rarity. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to document Borneo’s river sharks and rays, and to figure out how they can be conserved.

Aims & objectives

There are five objectives our project will aim to meet. Firstly, we will engage local project partners to ensure future field trip planning has local participation and support. These relationships will also form the foundation for building capacity and social capital to conserve Borneo’s river sharks and rays into the future. Secondly, there are four objectives relating to the collection of data for use in conservation risk assessments. We:

  1. aim to visit local markets in key regions to understand the characteristics of the fishery and to engage with local fishermen to observe catch, gear, effort, trade, and enquire about target species
  2. A livelihood questionnaire will be used to gain sight into local knowledge on the presence or ecology of elasmobranchs (current and historic), cultural or social uses of elasmobranchs including consumption and sale, and livelihood characteristics of fishers, including food and economic reliance’s, and market availability
  3. Where target species are reported to occur, targeted fishing surveys will be conducted in collaboration with local fishers
  4. Lastly, in regions where target species are reported, or observed, some local fishers will be engaged to enumerate their fishing activities over an extended period of time. This will allow for a better understanding of fishery interactions for target species and data collection over a greater time period than possible through direct fieldwork.

In order to achieve these objectives, we will meet with in-country partners to discuss details, roles, and target surveys areas to maximize engagement and participation of local knowledge early in the project. Each of these data collection techniques will be employed throughout East, North, and Western Kalimantan Provinces in key environments. Special focus will be placed on trying to locate a Glyphis specimen which will be preserved and transported to the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, for long term storage.