Francisco is using molecular genetic markers to assess if the American elephantfish that is found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is one population – or two. Basic information about this species is lacking, and its proper future management relies on filling these knowledge gaps. American elephantfish populations are declining, despite increases in landings in Argentina. By answering the question – Are American Elephantfish in the Atlantic and Pacific the same species, and the same population? – Francisco hopes to clarify some of the population structure and genetic connectivity. In this way, this project will help inform better conservation management.
Although born in central Chile, I grew up in Punta Arenas, near the Strait of Magellan. It was here, next to these cold waters, that my interest in marine life, especially in sharks and rays, started. At a very young age I decided to become a marine biologist and I set out on this path as a student at the Universidad de Valparaíso, in Chile. There were no shark specialists at the university, but my fish biology professor introduced me to one of the few shark specialists in my country, and over the years I became a shark specialist too!...
To determine whether the American elephant fish found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America comprise a single population.
The American elephant fish is a coastal South American species that has been experiencing high fishing pressure, especially in Argentina and Chile, since the 1950s. Alarmingly, its populations are declining and it was recently assessed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Globally, chimaeras have received limited attention and the American elephant fish Callorhinchus callorynchus is no exception. It has been reported in the south-eastern Pacific from Ecuador to the Strait of Magellan in Chile and in the south-western Atlantic from Brazil to Argentina. This is a coastal species, mostly found on sandy bottoms in relatively shallow waters, and it is caught by coastal artisanal fishers using gill nets. The species has experienced high fishing pressure as both targeted catch and bycatch throughout its distribution, but particularly in Chile and Argentina, since at least the 1950s. In the south-western Atlantic, nearly all landings (97%) of the species are reported from Argentina, and these have been increasing since 1992 to an average of 2,000 tons a year. In the South Pacific, landings from Chile have fluctuated considerably during the past two decades, but have remained at low levels in recent years. Despite the commercial importance of the American elephant fish, its ecology has not been studied throughout its distribution. Moreover, the absence of stock assessments, estimates of abundance and species-specific management means the future conservation of the species remains uncertain. It is known that successful conservation policies are strongly dependent on a sound understanding of population structure and genetic connectivity. For this species, however, we still lack the most fundamental information: are American elephant fish in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans the same species and possibly the same population?
To determine, using molecular genetic markers, whether the American elephant fish found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are of the same species and if so whether they comprise a single population.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.