Based in one of the world’s most unusual and unexplored ecosystems, Ruth aims to unravel the mystery of Madagascar’s sawfishes. Which species are present? What threats do they face? Can communities be convinced to protect them?
The general aim of this project is to assess the status of sawfishes in Madagascar and to initiate the development of conservation and management plans for sawfishes in the region.
Sawfishes are critically endangered worldwide and face a number of threats throughout their range, including accidental capture in nets, targeted capture for the shark-fin trade, and the loss of their mangrove and riverine habitats. In African waters, there is a paucity of up-to-date data on existing sawfish populations, but many historical populations are now known to be extinct. It is thus essential to find and document any remaining sawfish populations in this region and to develop effective plans for their protection and longer-term monitoring. This project addresses many of the proposed objectives in the Sawfish Global Strategy for Conservation.
As mentioned, there are few data on existing sawfish populations in Africa. In Madagascar, anecdotal information from a number of sources, including fishermen, a tour operator and staff of a local NGO, suggests that sawfishes are present on the north-west coast of the country. A sea cucumber fisherman diving off Nosy Be encountered and was injured by a sawfish and Japanese researchers caught several sawfishes (then classified as Pristis microdon) in the Betsiboka River in 2001, further supporting the premise that sawfishes inhabit this general region.
This project does not address a specific threat but rather aims to address the gap in knowledge about sawfishes in Madagascar by collecting the first comprehensive dataset on sawfishes in west and north-west Madagascar, including data on the species present, the habitats where they can be found, the threats they face, and the cultural and economic importance of sawfishes to local communities. Sawfishes are culturally important in many parts of the world, and such importance should be integrated into conservation and management plans, as it can help to make them more effective. Conservation challenges will include loss of habitat through mangrove deforestation, but also, potentially, fisheries for sawfishes, which may contribute considerably to the livelihoods of artisanal fishers in the region. If the latter is the case, this project will draw on previous case studies to identify alternative livelihoods, such as aquaculture or tourism, and alternative fishing methods, to facilitate a reduction in fishing pressure on sawfishes.
The aims and objectives of this project are to:
Tanja is learning where the flapper skate moves along the last vestiges of its home range on the Scottish west coast and trying to understand how this affects its genetic diversity. To find out how its declining populations can survive, she is introducing the paternity test to the shark world and exploring whether mating partners, siblings or whole clans are commonly in the same area or if they can be found in different places.
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.