How are guitarfish using the shallow coastal habitats of Goa in western India, and how does that overlap with the fisheries there? How do these rays fare with the stress of capture? Do they survive if they are released? These are some of the questions Trisha is on a mission to answer. She is focusing on the Critically Endangered, CITES-listed widenose guitarfish that is also listed under India’s Wildlife Protection Act. She’ll also be looking at the habits and habitat use of related species, filling critical gaps in our knowledge and using the information to support the development of conservation management plans.
Although I grew up in an Indian city that lies far from the coast, I’ve loved the ocean and its vast mysteries from a very young age. I always looked for any excuse to be by the sea and exploring its secrets. Combining this with an inclination for science and a passion for nature and wildlife, I decided to pursue a career in marine biology.
Soon after completing my Master’s, I did an internship on fisheries bycatch on India’s west coast. There I saw my first shark – a small spadenose shark caught by local fishers –...
Our project aims to understand the habitat use and impacts of fisheries on Critically Endangered guitarfish populations in Goa, western India, and develop locally appropriate conservation solutions.
The widenose guitarfish Glaucostegus obtusus is classified as Critically Endangered, is protected under CITES and has recently been listed under Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act, yet it is exceptionally understudied. Our project aims to address critical knowledge gaps in the habitat ecology of this guitarfish and related species. This can inform the development of science-based conservation plans and make a real difference to populations of these threatened species.
Giant guitarfish (Glaucostegus spp.) are found primarily in tropical nearshore waters where they are highly vulnerable to overexploitation by coastal fisheries. All the species are listed as Critically Endangered. There is very little scientific information about them from developing countries like India, where there is a high diversity of guitarfish along with a large and complex coastal fishery. Ecological characteristics such as habitat use can inform the design of effective, science-based conservation measures and need to be studied.
Guitarfish use shallow bays, estuaries and lagoons as feeding, mating and nursery areas. Identifying these essential fish habitats, and understanding their seasonal use by different life stages, can help protect guitarfish in the most vulnerable life stages because area-based strategies can then be developed. Alongside this, live release has been proposed as a conservation measure for guitarfish and is being successfully implemented in some regions (such as Brazil). In Goa, however, the survival rate of these individuals after they have been caught and released remains unknown. We need to understand these survival rates better to test the effectiveness of this measure in conserving guitarfish populations.
In Goa, widenose guitarfish are found in shallow coastal waters, where they overlap with fishing, tourism and other disturbances. Juveniles and pups are often caught as bycatch in small-scale fisheries. Our project aims to understand how guitarfish use these nearshore habitats and are impacted by fisheries. This study will serve as a baseline for further research to develop conservation interventions for guitarfish in Goa. We will also work towards increasing public awareness about these threatened species and make guitarfish flagship species for marine conservation in Goa.
We aim to understand the impacts of fisheries on guitarfish populations and develop locally appropriate conservation measures. Our specific objectives are to assess:
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.