The bright on the brink of ironically “least concern” sawfishes in Indonesia
Sihar Aditia | 20 June 2021
Personally, I always think sawfishes are the most ironic endangered species that occur in Indonesia. And what exactly do I mean by saying that? Sawfishes have been included in the national protection list since 1999, such a long time ago to start tightly concerning for these creatures. But practically, these critically endangered shark-like rays do not get the national attention as they deserve both in an academic setting and conservation efforts particularly. It is like someone said that s/he loved you but that was all of it, not directly followed by any practical actions to convey her/his feeling. S/he did not know your favorite dessert, did not ask you to date or did not even care about your passion and dreams. This unfortunate condition is just exactly ironic as the sawfishes are. Protected by the normative law since a long time ago, but very little research has been conducted to study them which results in very poor availability of sawfish data at this moment. In short, we barely know anything about them.
Sawfishes are not alone, there are so many endangered rare species in the world that bluntly face the same issue: already on the edge of extinction, but remains out in the cold. Think about pelagic thresher sharks or pangolins. Even though these animals are arguably considered as charismatic endangered species which usually tend to get the bulk of conservation resources, funding and attention, the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) program put them into the low conservation attention category, meaning these species do not have an action plan and receive very little or no research.
Now let’s compare sawfishes to manta rays or dugong. These species certainly are charismatic as well, even though the term charismatic itself is very subjective. But we surely can say that these creatures are unique; the well-known high intelligence and enormous body size of the manta rays and the fact of being the only marine herbivorous mammal and torpedo-shaped body of dugong make them somewhat charismatic. On the other hand, sawfishes are also unique because of their long, flattened, toothed saw-like rostrum as the extension of their nose which exactly why they are named as it is. To some extent, sawfishes are charismatic species also. So it is one point for sawfishes and one point for manta rays and dugong each in terms of the popularity as species.
Due to the ongoing threats was occurring, manta rays were finally made into the national protection list in 2014 and right after that, the national action plan for manta rays was launched in 2015. This rapid response is highly appreciated since now manta rays are listed as Endangered for oceanic manta rays and Vulnerable for reef manta rays based on IUCN Red List and both were included in Appendix II CITES list, meaning the international trade for these species is closely controlled. For Dugong, the national protection comes first in 1999 prior to the time they were listed in Appendix I CITES list. The international trade for dugong is meticulously prohibited and permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Because of their Vulnerable status from IUCN Red List criteria and the national government felt like they need to do more about it, the national action plan for dugong was first released in 2016. To mention another conservation optimism, many parties from different conservation NGOs, universities and governmental agencies have been investing their resources to study manta rays and dugong in Indonesia as we can find many scientific online published papers easily nowadays.
Here is where the trouble starts. On the other hand, sawfishes, while the international concern for them is rising, they are being nationally ignored for all this time. We do not have many scientific published papers talking about sawfish is being here and there and somewhere around Indonesia waters. We do not have a single conservation NGO that focuses on sawfish-specific conservation or even just put them into one of their main marine programs. One of four sawfish species that once inhabited Indonesia waters already face local extinction, leaving only three sawfish species that need to be saved (Yan et al. 2021). As the world-class researcher claimed that sawfishes are now the world’s most imperiled marine fishes (Dulvy et al. 2014) and a global strategy for sawfish conservation has been launched in 2014 (Harrison and Dulvy 2014), here we are abandoned them without a national action plan on our hands. It begs a question: why are other species receiving more attention than sawfishes that are unquestionably far closer to extinction.
It is about time to scale up the conservation attention to the sawfishes nationally. They are one of the elasmobranch species after all. They are awesome. And they are on the edge of extinction in the wild. But the lesson here is that even awesome, critically endangered rays can perish in obscurity. We are trying to initiate the sawfish conservation bandwagon nationally. Starting from conduct an initial study to investigate where they remain to be found and assess the current status locally. With a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach, we will work closely with local fishers in Merauke, Papua Province, as well as maintain positive communication with government agencies and related university institutions to ensure that sawfishes in Indonesia get attention as they deserved. Hopefully these efforts will bring some light to the brink of the sawfishes which is ironically “least concern” in Indonesia.
Dulvy NK, Davidson LNK, Kyne PM, Simpfendorfer CA, Harrison LR, Carlson JK, Fordham SV. 2014. Ghost of the coast: global extinction risk and conservation of sawfishes. Aquatic. Conserv: Mar. Fresh. Ecosyst.
Harrison LR, Dulvy NK. 2014. Sawfish: A global strategy for conservation. IUCN Species Survival Comission’s Shark Specialist Group. Vancouver, Canada.
Yan HF, Kyne PM, Jabado RW, Leeney RH, Davidson LNK, Derrick DH, Finucci B, Freckleton RP, Fordham SV, Dulvy NK. 2021. Overfishing and habitat loss drives range contraction of inconic marine fishes to extinction. Sci. Adv. 7: eabb6026.