by Nikki Biskis and Barbara Wueringer
We are excited to announce that a long imagined SARA initiative is well underway! Since commencing our public submissions campaign in 2016, we have received over 140 sawfish saws in donation. Some of the saws are used for school visits and species ID workshops, but we are now on a mission to display the majority of saws all over Far North Queensland. This is our chance to turn saws once removed as trophies into messengers for conservation!
Right now we are designing and building informative displays to educate communities about how to safely release sawfish from fishing gear and report sightings to us. Our conversations with people from all walks of life have shown that once people understand how threatened sawfish are, they become stewards for these amazing animals. Ensuring that the saw is not amputated from an accidentally captured sawfish is one of our priorities.
So far we have received funding from the Advanced Queensland Citizen Science Initiative for the first 25 locations, with an ultimate goal of reaching 50. SARA has also received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the locations contacted so far. We have officially picked the first 20 locations, and most of them are already on board! Thank you to everyone that offered to be a part of our mission! If you think that your location (iconic pub, road house, tourist info centre and more) sees large numbers of both tourists and local visitors, and would like to join this project, please send an email to nikki(at)saw.fish
Both the Sawfish Biology Guide and Display Flyer were designed with this project in mind
Currently planned locations for sawfish saw displays: Albatross Bay Resort (Weipa), Daintree Discovery Centre (Daintree), Barramundi Discovery Centre (Karumba), Cape York Peninsula Lodge (Bamaga), Lakeland Hotel (Lakeland), Moreton Telegraph Station (-12.4536°, 142.6386°), Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Visitor Information Centre, Cairns Aquarium, Normanton Library/Info Centre, Kowanyama Ranger Office, Kowanyama PCB, Nature’s Powerhouse (Cooktown Visitor Information), Hann River Roadhouse (-15.1889°, 143.8725°), Palmer River Roadhouse (-16.1070°, 144.7769°), Archer River Roadhouse (-13.4376°, 142.94168°).
This blog post was originally published as a project update for the Save Our Seas Foundation. You can access the original post here.
Sometimes working with endangered species can be difficult. Personally, I have a lot of respect for my fellow elasmobranch biologists who collect samples and sightings data from fish markets and other locations that bring you close to only body parts of the species you are working so hard to protect.
Last week I received a set of saws that Queensland Fisheries had confiscated. The previous owner of these had received a fine for possession without a permit. It is likely that many of these saws had been taken before sawfish had been protected. But it is also likely that the saws represent a subset of what he collected, the subset that he was not yet able to sell.
The saws will be used for research and education. DNA samples and measurements will be taken, and some of the saws will be used for school visits. But these saws will also guide future sampling efforts. Being an optimist, I am hoping they might lead us to a remnant population of a Pristis species on Queensland’s east coast, in a location where potentially even the populations of Anoxyrpstis cuspidata might still be healthy.
access the original blog post for the Save Our Seas Foundation here
The Daintree River is surrounded by lush rainforest. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
Native species of taro and freshwater mangroves fringe the shoreline. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
Our search for sawfishes in the waters of the northern parts of Queensland, Australia, certainly takes us into some very special ecosystems. Most are classified as arid bush or grassland, but recently our search took us to the Daintree, a special place that deserves its own blog post.
A bridge crosses a side arm of the Daintree. The main river can only be crossed by car ferry. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
Australia is the driest continent on earth – nearly 20% of its landscape is defined as desert – and is well known for this fact. The unique landscape of the outback and its drought-adapted fauna, such as termites, kangaroos and emus, are famous and for many people they represent the true Australia. But a large number of these species actually evolved from an ecosystem that is now restricted to the Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland – the Daintree.
The trunk of this tree is completely overgrown by a fern. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
One of six amethystine pythons that were resting in a tree above our sampling site. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
The Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world. As the climate remained stable over millions of years in this region, many of the native plants have retained their ancestors’ ‘primitive’ characteristics. Of the 28 lineages of near-basal, or ‘primitive’, flowering plants that exist globally, 16 are found in the Daintree. The Daintree is often advertised as the place where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, so just imagine the species diversity that can be encountered within a few hundred kilometres! Saltwater crocodiles, cassowaries, tree kangaroos – these are only a few of the local flagship species.
A freshwater mangrove flowering in the Daintree, Far North Queensland. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
The name Daintree refers not only to the rainforest, but also to the river that flows through it. And this is where we went searching for sawfishes. We spent five days and nights sampling in the river, far inland where the water becomes more and more fresh. On this particular trip we did not catch any sawfishes, but we did tag and release some juvenile bull sharks. Currently, the distribution of sawfishes on the east coast of Far North Queensland and the Cape York region is considered to be patchy, but this may be because so little attention has been paid to it and sampling efforts have been incomplete.
A juvenile bull shark is carefully untangled from a gill net. Photo © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
The team from Sharks And Rays Australia works up a juvenile bull shark. © Barbara Wueringer | Sharks And Rays Australia
Locals in the tiny village of Daintree were super interested in our work and by the time we launched our boat there were 20–30 people watching us (about 20% of the population!). We also distributed our sawfish ID flyers (adapted from the Sawfish Conservation Society for Queensland; download here). Next time we come back we’ll be sure to give a public talk.
Barbara distributes our flyers in Daintree village, encouraging people to submit sawfish sightings. Photo © Amandine Bart | Sharks And Rays Australia