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Translating sawfish education into conservation

By Jeff Whitty, 8th December 2021

With sawfish research and conservation efforts increasing, a growing number of countries have established protective legislation for sawfish, however, the effectiveness of this legislation and the success of conservation efforts are predominately dependent on the education and involvement of the public. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of sawfish conservation educational materials that are freely available in multiple languages. This was highlighted in the multiple emails that we (the Sawfish Conservation Society) received from other groups throughout the world that were interested but unable to conduct sawfish outreach events, due to a lack of information and resources. As such, with support from Save Our Seas Foundation, we undertook the responsibility to construct six outreach materials in seven different languages that would be made freely available to researchers, educators, and the general public.

Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Photo © Tonya Wiley.

To complete this challenge, early this year we started on our four-step process to 1) research the needs for these materials and how best to design them, 2) design and translate the prototypes, 3) test the prototypes, and 4) develop and advertise the final products. As this process is applicable to other conservation groups, we wanted to share our journey and our main findings of the first two steps in this process.

In Spring 2020, we undertook our first step using a desktop study and conducted phone, email, and virtual interviews with numerous conservation educators from around the world to identify effective methods and materials used in educating people in an outreach environment. From this, we learned the importance of using materials that engage multiple senses, limiting the number of messages presented, and targeting specific groups.

During this time, we also interviewed numerous sawfish researchers to learn what messages were of greatest importance in educating and involving the public in various countries of the world. From these interviews, it became clear that there was a need to educate the public about the threats to sawfishes and the importance of sawfishes, and to let the public know how they can help in sawfish conservation (e.g., how to release and report sawfishes).

Release and identification guide brochure for Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Using the collected information, we began to develop six outreach materials aimed at fishers and their children, as these groups were deemed to have the greatest potential influence on sawfish conservation efforts. Focusing on fishers allowed us to concentrate on a group that can make changes now while including their children would help influence future changes and potentially influence their parents’ views. These materials included two posters, two brochures, and two interactive activities. The brochures included an identification/release guide for the adults and a fun and games brochure that kids can take home and use to introduce their friends and family to sawfish.

Once materials were designed, each was then translated into languages used in regions where sawfish are most encountered, including English, Indonesian, Bangla, French, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese. Translations were done using Google Translate or hired translators. Translations were then reviewed and edited by a list of generous sawfish researchers including Carolina Arruda, Patricia Charvet, Igbal Elhassan, Mario Espinoza, Alifa Bintha Haque, Bautisse Postaire, Sihar Aditia Silalahi, and Yunita Wahyu.

With completed prototypes, we are now looking to test our materials during the rest of the year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, we are limited with the amount of in-person outreach events we can do and must be creative in how we test these materials. As part of this process, we are asking for everyone to

  1. Visit our webpage:  International Sawfish Day
  2. Review the outreach materials near the bottom of the page, and
  3. Take the short survey on the webpage to let us know what you learned. We would greatly appreciate your feedback on how we may improve these materials.

    Screenshot of our webpage ( where you can find the outreach materials and survey.

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