With more than 200 species of sharks and rays around the Philippines and little known about the conservation status of most of them, it’s no wonder that some species have been ignored. AA is trying to close the information gaps for bottlenose wedgefish and other rhinid species to help inform better management for these species.
I have been involved in marine conservation management for most of my professional life, with the Philippine government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the NGO World Wide Fund for Nature – Philippines, and recently an NGO that I founded called Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP). Working with these institutions has opened my eyes to an array of environmental and wildlife conservation issues in the country. I have taken particular interest in large marine vertebrates and marine turtles – I worked in the Turtle Islands, the biggest rookery for green turtles in South-East Asia. I have also been...
The aim of this study is to provide sufficient information on the White-spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish, particularly on the threat of fisheries, to be able to recommend appropriate management strategies for its conservation in the Philippines and region.
Fishery is the major threat to shark and ray resources in the Philippines. Management in terms of regulation and prohibition of commercial, artisanal, and bycatch have been a challenge. One of the road blocks to conservation is the lack of data regarding catches as well as the status of the population of probably over 200 species of sharks and rays in the country. Although conservation activities exist, less iconic species such as the White-Spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish whose population is at risk of depletion in the Philippines, have been ignored. The monitoring of catches and determining specific threats to this species is a challenge as they are not considered commercially important in the country and therefore, not a priority. This study will make possible better conservation of the White-spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish and other rhinids by addressing information gaps.
The Philippines has no comprehensive law on shark and ray conservation. Recent interest on their protection has risen due to reports of shark and ray exploitation throughout the country. Synthesized information on the shark and ray resources of the Philippines could be found in the National Plan of Action – Sharks (2018) of the Philippines and the book Pating Ka Ba? An Identification Guide to Sharks, Batoids and Chimaeras of the Philippines by Alava et al. (2014).
Several initiatives seek to address shark and ray conservation in the Philippines including the development of a Conservation Roadmap for Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras in the country in the next three years as well as the filing of the Philippine Shark Conservation bill as of July. The government also established the Philippine Aquatic Red List Committee (PARLC), which is tasked to assess the risk of extinction of aquatic biodiversity in the country using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria, includes a Sub-committee on Cartilaginous Fishes.
Despite these efforts, protected species are limited to those listed in the CITES Appendices, a total of 21 sharks and rays, as dictated by the Philippine Fisheries Code, which as a consequence, excludes any form of management to over 150 species of sharks, rays, and chimaeras in the country.
Since 2017, the Philippines has supported the conservation of the White-spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish Rhynchobatus australiae by proposing for its listing to the CMS Appendices, approved at CMS CoP12. R. australiae is globally classified by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable due to population depletions driven by overfishing in artisanal and commercial fisheries. They are caught as target species and as bycatch primarily for their fins, which are extremely valuable in international trade. However, there is a dearth of information on the actual volume of catches, methods by which they are caught, as well as the areas where they are found. This information is necessary to further any conservation efforts on this species.
Additionally, R. australiae was previously considered to consist of a species complex but taxonomic confirmation has only been recently done. Globally, at least eight distinct Rhynchobatus species have been described, two of which considerably overlap in their geographic distribution with R. australiae, particularly, the Giant Sandshark R. djiddensis (Forsskål, 1775) and the Smoothnose Wedgefish R. laevis (Bloch & Schneider, 1801). These species have often been confused or mistaken as R. australiae or for each other. The potential for “look-alike species” overlapping in the regions needs to be addressed. In the Philippines, the species listed as Rhynchobatus sp. 2 in Compagno et al., 2005, previously thought as part of the species complex of Giant Sandshark R. djiddensis, is recently described as a new species, the Broadnose Wedgefish Rhynchobatus springeri by Compagno and Last, 2010.
The goal of current initiative is, with enough baseline data, to include the White-spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish R. australiae and look-alikes, possibly the Broadnose Wedgefish R. springeri, in the list of protected species in the Philippines. At a global scale, this initiative will contribute to information that can be potentially used for the listing of the White-spotted/Bottlenose Wedgefish R. australiae in CITES. It is hoped that this study will strengthen the position of the Philippines in its proposals with CMS, and potentially at CITES, for better protection of the species and regulation of its trade.
In the Mediterranean, species such as guitarfishes, the spiny butterfly ray and angel sharks are all Critically Endangered or Endangered, making their conservation management vital. Ioannis is using a combination of local knowledge, BRUVs and scuba surveys to search for key aggregation areas and essential habitats for the elasmobranchs of Kos Island in the South Aegean Sea.
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.
To find out which shark species occur in Puerto Rican waters, Glorimar is using genetics and getting samples from fish markets. She also relies on the assistance of local fishers. Filling this fundamental knowledge gap will help to assess local consumption of sharks and build up the community’s understanding of how sharks function in the marine ecosystem.