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Meet the fishers helping save threatened dolphins

25 April 2016
Large mesh size Gillnet fishing boat on the Bengal coast
Photo: Rubaiyat Mansur

Preventing bycatch of threatened marine megafauna is a challenging task, writes Brian D. Smith from the Bay of  Bengal, Bangladesh. Fishers are often unable to detect Irrawaddy dolphins entangled in their nets. But according to Brian there are solutions. 

This blog piece originally appeared on the IUCN Blog in February this year. It is one of a series of SOS Grantee blogs to be featured relating news from conservation projects worldwide.

Early one morning WCS researcher Rubaiyat Mansur received a phone call. It was from Sonjoy Kumar Dash, one of the gillnet fishing captains participating in our dolphin – fisher safety network. Sonjoy’s voice trembled as he told us the bad news. “I am so sorry. We tried our best but an Irrawaddy dolphin became entangled in our net. When we pulled it up the dolphin was already dead. My crew told me not to tell you but it is my duty. I will send you the photos over my mobile phone.”

Spinner dolphins are one of numerous at risk marine species. Photo: Rubaiyat MansurSonjoy has been one of our star fishers since we started the SOS project Saving threatened coastal cetaceans in collaboration with gill net fishers in coastal waters of Bangladesh in July 2013. This project works with fishers to monitor their nets for dolphin and porpoise entanglements, rescue live dolphins and porpoises when they become entangled, and collect biological information and samples from cetaceans that are found already dead. In exchange we provide them with tools for increasing their safety at sea The Swatch of No Ground marine area is a well known fishing ground and cetacean habitat off Bangladesh. Photo: Rubaiyat Mansurwith a Global Positioning System (GPS) and training on how to use it to navigate safely inside the Sundarbans mangrove forest during increasingly frequent extreme storms.

Once they knew we also wanted to learn more about accidental shark catches, Sonjoy and other captains inspired by his efforts started providing us with vital information on bycatches involving shark species threatened with extinction by gillnet entanglement. They Other species are also at risk of entanglement in gill nets such as this turtle - released alive thanks to vigilant fishers. Photo: WCS BCDPnow also collect data on the locations where they deploy and retrieve their gill nets. This will allow us to work with the gillnet fishing community and the Government of Bangladesh to develop spatial planning approaches, and reduce bycatch by prohibiting entangling gear where dolphins and porpoises occur in the greatest densities, while concentrating fisheries in areas where there is reduced risk due to fewer cetaceans occurring in them.

Sonjoy and his fellow captains are enthusiastic fans of our Dolphin safety network training for dolphins. Photo: WCS Bangladeshprogram in part because they receive the powerful incentive of increasing their safety at sea with the GPS. This comes at a time when their lives are becoming increasingly perilous due to extreme storms whose frequency and magnitude are increasing due to climate change. These storms take the lives of hundreds to thousands of fishers each year. The fishing boat captains tell us they also save fuel by navigating more accurately with a GPS.

However, their support goes far beyond the safety and With more effective conservation interventions, there will be fewer images like this one on record. Photo: Zahangir Alomcost-saving benefits they enjoy as part of the SOS-funded dolphin – fisher safety network. The dolphins’ visits are a welcome break from the boredom and drudgery of life at sea, and the fishers express great sadness when dolphins and porpoises die in their nets.

Saving threatened dolphins and porpoises in Bangladesh is a challenging task and, even though we have learnt a great Sonjoy Kumar Dash. Photo: WCS Bangladeshdeal about the nature and magnitude of cetacean bycatch in gillnets, so far we have not been able to rescue a single animal. Sonjoy promises us that he will be more vigilant looking for entangled dolphins while monitoring his net, but he fears more dolphins will die without early warning of their entanglement.

A great deal of their fishing activity occurs at night, so the fishers cannot see what is happening in their net. But even during the day they cannot see as far as they need to in order to detect an underwater struggle along their 2-3 km long nets. Working with the fishers, we will test early warning alarms as simple as a bell on a buoy to alert fishers of dolphin entanglements, and flags on buoy poles to give them visual cues of a dolphin struggling beneath the surface.

We also hope to equip the fishermen with a pair of waterproof binoculars which will extend their visual capacity to detect entanglements and enrich the information we receive on dolphin and porpoise sightings.

Working together with gillnet fishing captains in Bangladesh, we are optimistic about finding solutions to solve the bycatch problem of cetaceans, sharks and other marine megafauna threatened with extinction from gill net entanglement. With help from SOS, WCS is building strong constituencies in support of cetacean conservation in a global hotspot where threatened species are found in generally much greater numbers than in other areas of their distribution in the tropical Indo-Pacific. For more information on this SOS-funded project protecting coastal cetaceans, see here.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting frontline conservation work from grantees of SOS – Save Our Species, a global initiative created by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and IUCN, since joined by numerous other donors. Managed by IUCN, SOS aggregates and redistributes much-needed funding to high-impact species projects implemented by conservation organisations worldwide.

This project is just one of many community oriented marine conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling issues like death by gill net. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.

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Poachers turn protectors in Bassa Point community

20 April 2016
Anthony and colleague excavating a nest
Photo: Trokon Saykpa

“I started poaching turtle eggs when I was ten years old!” declares Anthony Peabody. Since 2012, however, Anthony has been working as a beach monitor and turtle protector thanks to Sea Turtle Watch (STW) Liberia’s community oriented conservation programme. With four species including Hawksbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley and Green turtles using these beaches, Liberia is important for marine turtle conservation.  

In a country with relatively weak marine turtle conservation legislation, NGOs like STW Liberia are working directly with coastal communities to help reduce extinction pressures from egg harvesting and death through bycatch in fishing nets. “Sea turtle hunting and egg poaching have a substantial history in Bassa Point, Little Bassa and Edina coastal communities,” explains Trokon Saykpa, project coordinator with STW.

The legislative situation is gradually changing however. In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began the process of formulating simplified regulations for the protection of Endangered Marine Species in Liberia, inviting inputs from STW among other locally based conservation organisations. Change will come, eventually. Meanwhile, community engagement through participatory conservation allows for more immediate conservation successes, asserts Trokon.

Olive ridley havingbeen released by monitors in Bassa Point. Photo: Anthony PeabodyAs was the case for many other community members also growing up in the region, poaching sea turtle eggs was a serious business for Anthony. “I learned how to do it from my father who took me hunting at night for sea turtles. Each night I would go and dig out 2 – 4 nests for food primarily, and then take the rest to market to sell”.

In 2012, following an initial series of meetings with STW Liberia, the community leaders of Bassa Point selected Anthony and two other individuals to work with the sea Sea turtle identification poster for workshop. Photo: Trokon Saykpaturtle project and put their local knowledge to good use. Once trained, daily duties involved walking the beach to record nesting sea turtle data, protecting identified nests until hatching and excavating the nests as required.

One of the principal objectives of this project is to protect nesting sea turtle beaches all year round and for records collected to show an increase in or stability of marine turtle populations in the region. These monitor training workshops are key to the successful implementation of this objective as they build the capacity of these local monitors and Trokon and colleague recording waypoint for peg demarcating the beach for patrolling purposes. Photo: Anthony Peabodyprovide tools for carrying out walking beach patrols in the area as well as effectively contributing to the improvement of the conservation status of threatened sea turtle species in Liberia.

Every year, at the beginning of a nesting season during October to November, local monitors gather together from their various communities for a training workshop on how-to identify, track and collect data on nesting sea turtles found on the beaches in their area. Developing visually oriented training aides helps speed up training in a situation characterized by mixed levels of literacy.

For Anthony “every time I attend this training workshop, I learned a new method or routine which enabled me to complete the sea turtle data records properly. For example these large posters showing ways to identify the sea turtle species are very helpful and important to my work.”

This is just one of many anti-poaching projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling issues like illegal wildlife trade. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.

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Bhutan: more than half

20 April 2016
Bhutan, Himalayas
Photo: Nigel Dudley

A tiny Himalayan country, landlocked between India and China, has become one of the first – perhaps the first – to meet calls for “nature needs half” by setting aside over half of its land into protected areas and biological corridors. As Bhutan develops, after centuries of isolation, exactly what this commitment means is a focus of both national and international attention.

The country has many natural advantages: Bhutan is extremely mountainous, with a small population (780,000 people) and is overwhelmingly Buddhist, where people put high value on the sanctity of all life. Discussions about human-wildlife conflict in Bhutan are unusual.  As happens everywhere, people do grumble: there has been a population explosion of wild boar and many farmers guard their crops 24 hours a day, but the idea of killing nuisance animals is still largely rejected. So protected areas are not merely an abstraction and the concepts of conservation are understood.  The constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan mandates the country to maintain at least 60 per cent of Bhutan under forest cover for all times to come and to maintain the country as carbon neutral, in other words as a net carbon sink over time.

Bhutan's protected areas and corridors. Photo: WikipediaBhutan has ten protected areas, along with the Royal Botanic Gardens of Lamperi located an hour outside the capital Thimphu (and probably the only botanic garden in the world where wild tigers roam). They cover, in total, an area not much less than Slovenia or El Salvador.

Massive altitudinal differences create dramatically different habitats: sub-tropical forests, temperate forests, mountain pastures, deep gorges, high altitude lakes and peaks over 7,000 metres.  In the north, Wangchuck Centennial Park, the newest protected area, stretches to Golden Langur. Photo: Nigel DudleyTibet (China), in a region so remote that even the location of the international border is poorly understood. In the south, Royal Manas National Park borders Assam, India, consisting of dryland plains and scattered forests.

According to the latest nationwide tiger survey 2014-2015, Bhutan has an estimate of 103 tigers with the world’s greatest altitudinal variation in occurrence. At heights of over four thousand metres tigers share range with snow leopards, which were recently the subject of a national survey. The more than 200 mammal species in Bhutan include blue sheep, Tibetan wolf, takin (the national animal of Bhutan), Asian elephants, guar, musk deer and the Primula. Photo: Nigel Dudleygolden langur, and many more. There are also over 700 bird species, including the globally endangered white-bellied heron. Perhaps more important than any of the above is that Bhutan, by virtue of its history, contains some of the most pristine forest habitats in the region: extraordinarily rich ecosystems with many other species still waiting to be discovered.

Bhutan’s national parks follow the European model more than the North American: most contain settled Paddy fields and mountains, Bhutan. Photo: Nigel Dudleycommunities and mix conservation with various forms of traditional use. Of critical importance in many parks in Bhutan is the collection of Cordyceps, a fungus with enormously high value for traditional medicines. Much of the acceptance of park management from residents is because it helps to maintain sustainable harvest and restricts collection to local communities, thus maintaining a highly lucrative form of income.

At the same time, pressures are mounting in parts of the country and these will impact protected areas. India is bank-rolling a tripling of hydropower potential in just five years, damming a series of hitherto wild rivers and creating a plethora of infrastructure.  A national road-widening project is ongoing.  Poaching is increasing, partly from cross-border raids.

Conversely, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest and Park Services is launching a multi-million dollar Bhutan for Life Water Redstart, Bhutan. Photo: Nigel Dudleyproject, which aims to strengthen and alleviate the existing protected area management. The first nation-wide protected area management effectiveness assessment is ongoing.

Bhutan has shown global leadership in setting an inspirational target and establishing its protected area system in the face of development pressure, before worrying about every aspect of management. Actions over the next few years should help to consolidate the system and maintain its unique role in Himalayan biodiversity conservation.

Article written by Nigel Dudley, chair of the WCPA Specialist Group on Natural Solutions, and co-founder of Equilibrium Research.

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Bush fire management in the Boé

18 April 2016
Chimbo Boé landscape in the rainy season
Photo: Chimbo

In a region such as the Boé, Guinea Bissau, effective fire management is critical to maintaining a balance between local wildlife and farming community needs, according to Tedros Medhin, project coordinator with grantee Stichting Chimbo (Chimbo). “Thanks to SOS our bush fire control program could be expanded”. The project target species is Chimpanzees in and around the future Boé National Park. 

Using slash and burn techniques for local agriculture compounded by the threat of illegal bush fires for hunting place significant pressures on the ecosystems and wildlife of the Boé. Recently, Chimbo began working with local communities to develop things further, integrating proactive management practices, developing response teams and formalising the system, all agreed through consensus. So far firefighting teams have been set up in 14 villages, Tedros reports.

The teams were trained, uniforms with logos produced and meetings held in several villages in which hundreds of people participated. The participation at these meetings of Mr. Fai Dje Djo, head of the Fauna and Forests department at the Ministry of Agriculture, helped to underline the importance of the message.

To broaden awareness, local radio station Radio Beli is used to share instructions on damage limitation techniques in the event of bush fires. Meanwhile, Teresa Borasino, a Peruvian artist, produced the first of a series of instructive posters. The poster explains the importance of early fires: burning grassland right after the rainy season to prevent the occurrence of later, much hotter, fires that damage large trees and reduce the forest cover, for example.

Chimpanzee Family taking A Stroll infront of a Trail Camera. Photo: ChimboWith a slash-and-burn approach, fields are left to lie fallow. No other fertilisation is added. At the end of the fallow period many shrubs and trees are felled and often even barks of the biggest trees are ringed. After that the field is burned. People start burning the fields at the beginning of the first rains in mid-May.

Burning of agricultural land only is permitted however on the condition that (i) a fire-break is made around the field, (ii) Chimbo Typical Boé landscape in the dry season with savanna and gallery forest in background. Photo: Chimbothe farmer waits for the first rains and (iii) the farmer stays at the field while it is burning. “Unfortunately not everyone respects these conditions and a burning occurs throughout the month of May” according to Tedros.

He elaborates, “many of the traditional practices and regulations, including the taboos, are rooted in sound ecological principles such as the protection of water sources or the prevention of the uncontrolled spread of bush Chimbo Faroba Tree (Parkia biglobosa) with Chimpanzee nests in farm field. Photo: CHIMBOfires. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of or still obeys this traditional knowledge and legislation”.

Indeed hunters too set fires – illegally – and for a number of reasons. Fire may be used to drive animals into a space where they may be easier to hunt. Secondly, fire improves visibility and destroys possible hiding places for the game and finally hunters can walk through forests without making noise since the litter will also have been burned.Community meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture. Photo: CHIMBO

With more guns and bicycles in the area than ever before, people are able to reach the most remote places of the Boé, which increases the risk and unfortunately the number of illegal bush fires.

Consequently, camera traps have been deployed in sacred forests near Beli and Pataque villages to help in three ways. Acting as a form of surveillance they can deter hunters from entering many of the sacred forest stands that Posters illustrating good fire management practice. Photo: CHIMBOstill are intact and which provide valuable natural resources. Secondly they can help monitor the occurrence of fire.

Perhaps their most valuable role however is to capture images of wildlife using these sacred forests. In mid-April 2014, a lion passed within a kilometer of Chimbo’s research camp. Explaining the significance, Tedros asserts “there had not been record of lion tracks or sightings for years in the Boé region.

In a time in West Africa when lion populations are declining dramatically such news is exciting not only for locals but for conservationists in general. “Sharing news and images of such wildlife is exciting. It helps to inspire the communities living in the Boé that theirs is an area rich in heritage and the unknown – something to cherish”.

Joining up these dots with the bigger picture makes the fire management program a key component of Chimbo’s work in Guinea-Bissau, helping strike a balance between locals and local wildlife by connecting the two strands in the story of life.

This is just one of many community oriented conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling a number of high-priority issues such as habitat degradation. Please donate now and help SOS save more species

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Exposing illegal trade in elephant tusks

15 April 2016
Cocoa truck hiding ivory tusk, Djoum, Cameroon
Photo: Oliver Fankem

Following a seizure of ivory, a suspected illegal trader has been sentenced to imprisonment. Paul de Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a grantee with IUCN’s SOS initiative, explains how ZSL helped expose the crime. 

In November 2014, a project team working in the Dja Biosphere Reserve (DBR), a conservation area in Cameroon and home to the Endangered forest elephant, was involved in arresting a suspect with 91 kg of tusk hidden in his truck full of cocoa bags.

Illegal wildlife traders in the region often hide illicitly obtained goods such as ivory, elephant tails and pangolin scales under very heavy loads. Forest officers inspecting vehicles cannot offload tons of goods unless they are absolutely certain of the presence of illegal materials, so it is a popular way of evading the authorities.

In this case a truck was seized in Djoum, a town outside of the Dja reserve, based on reliable information from the informant system supported by ZSL through SOS funds. The truck belonged to a well-established, rich businessman and the case attracted much attention locally. It presented a challenge for DBR ecoguards, but partners including ZSL coordinated their efforts, with ZSL providing full support during the court procedure until a sentence was passed.

The accused businessman was found guilty, condemned to 4 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay around US$ 22,000 in fines and civil awards. The accused has filed an appeal and the case has been sent to the Court of Appeal. Over the last year, ZSL has been following the case closely and working with the head of the DBR legal unit, Robert Okale, to ensure that the current judgment is upheld.

Poaching, habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade are pushing wildlife to the very edge. Illegal wildlife trade, estimated to be worth over US$ 10 billion annually, is the world’s fourth most lucrative criminal industry after drugs, human trafficking and weapons. Forest Elephant. Photo: Garth CrippsIn just two years between 2010 and 2012 over 10% of the total African elephant population was slaughtered for ivory.

The grantee has also been invited by the Government of Cameroon to support its National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP). As part of its support for NIAP, ZSL is ensuring that the 91 kg of tusks and other seized illegal items are not fraudulently fuelling the black market.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting frontline conservation work from grantees of SOS – Save Our Species, a global initiative created by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and IUCN, since joined by numerous other donors. Managed by IUCN, SOS aggregates and redistributes much-needed funding to high-impact species projects implemented by conservation organisations worldwide.

This is just one of many anti-poaching projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling a number of high-priority issuesincluding illegal wildlife trade such as ivory poaching. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.

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Hammerhead shark conservation in Costa Rican fishing communities

13 April 2016
Close up with an iconic species - an all too frequent victim of unsustainable fishing practices
Photo: Pretoma

A day in the life of community leader Doña Miriam Vargas highlights her fishery’s work to protect Costa Rica’s hammerhead sharks – as described by Andy Bystrom, project coordinator with SOS Grantee PRETOMA. 

It’s 6 a.m. and Miriam Vargas wades through the placid estuary waters from one small fishing boat to the next. She carries a long knife covered in blood, slime, and fish guts. Her ripped t-shirt and faded shorts are stained with the same bloody mess that drips from the knife and into the warm water around her feet. She grabs snapper after snapper with her bare hands, turns them over, slits open their abdomens, removes their intestines and flings them into a flock of floating pelicans that have gathered around the boats.

When the gutting is done she helps carry plastic crates full of fish from the boats to the weighing station, located just out of reach of the rising tide’s waters. From there, she sorts and records the total catch, separating the economically important snappers from the bycatch species with little commercial value. Her data, meticulously recorded and generously given to local scientists for analysis, is contributing to hammerhead shark conservation and the development of a sustainable small-scale snapper fishery.

As president of a fishers’ association, Miriam Vargas is pushing back against unsustainable industrialised fishing practices. Photo: PRETOMADoña Miriam is president of the Bejuco Fishers Association (ASOBEJUCO). For the last 30 years, she and her family have fished for snapper with bottom longlines in the coastal waters on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. She remembers a time when ASOBEJUCO’s small fleet of boats would come back to shore riding low in the water, full of snappers. Over the last 5 years, however, she’s witnessed a sharp downturn in the total catch. But rather than accepting the role of passive victim of overfishing and poor coastal resource management, this unlikely political With hard work and some luck, Costa Rica may succeed in balancing development through sustainable fisheries with the needs of hammerhead sharks - giving space for this amazing species to thrive. Photo: PRETOMAleader has learned about sustainable fisheries, certification systems, MPA development, and new forms of local management strategies.

And thanks to her association’s efforts to fish sustainably and avoid bycatch of threatened hammerhead sharks, the fishery is leading the development of management plans for the area’s two marine protected areas (MPAs), producing Costa Rica’s first snapper stock assessment, lobbying for national fisheries policy improvements, and driving the local initiative for a Fair Trade USA certification.

Beneath Doña Miriam’s weathered exterior is a politically astute individual who has learned to effectively present her community’s economic concerns during national fisher forums and in personal meetings with national fisheries officials and environmental ministers. By doing so, she’s pushing back against a governance system that favors industrialised fisheries and the unsustainable extraction of marine resources.

What is more, in 2009 she aligned her fishery with research groups and permitted biologists to record and analyze ASOBEJUCO catch data. Because of this, her fishery has contributed information used in multiple masters and doctorate theses by national and international students. Her fishery has also used this analysis to mitigate its bycatch rates, including its impacts on hammerhead sharks. One example of this is the way fishers have adopted the results of a hook selectivity study that identified the hook size that would maximize the catch of mature snappers while tending to catch fewer sharks and juvenile snappers.

This use of scientific catch data along with her and her community’s local ecological knowledge of the surrounding coastal ecosystem and the selectivity of bottom-longline use is driving much needed community-based fisheries management strategies in Costa Rica.

And it is these bottom-up approaches that are allowing this community of small-scale snapper fishers, and others like it, to pursue international sustainability certifications that could potentially aid in the socio-economic development of this community based industry. Doña Miriam is a crucial part of everyday life in Bejuco and an influential player in national fishery policy and the development of sustainable development initiatives. It is vocal, educated community leaders like her who drive coastal conservation and sustainable resource management strategies in Costa Rica.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting frontline conservation work from grantees of SOS – Save Our Species, a global initiative created by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and IUCN, since joined by numerous other donors. Managed by IUCN, SOS aggregates and redistributes much-needed funding to high-impact species projects implemented by conservation organisations worldwide.

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Reality bites with game theory in West African Sawfish conservation

11 April 2016
Ceuna and Cécile before the workshop event
Photo: DRDH

“Outreach and sensitization has to be tuned to local sensibilities”, explains Cécile Brigaudeau, project coordinator with AfricaSaw, from Cacine, a town five hours’ drive from the capital of Guinea-Bissau – three of them on dirt track.

Using Game Theory, local fishers built their own solution to preserving their marine resources including sawfish. "And now the role-play model is ready for roll-out in other communities across the region". In one hand Cécile is holding a loop of blue string - the fishery border in the game - while in the other are two cards - one illustrating a sawfish and the other a red fish.

Regarding her simple tools, she adds “experiential learning is a powerful tool”.

According to Ceuna Quade, an economics student who helped Cécile implement the initial workshop, “when working in remote regions, it is important the project is not perceived to be telling local people what to do”. Instead this game-based scenario was designed to let fishers find their own solutions in order to preserve their resource - fish - given constraints such as time, conservation priorities for sawfish, the resource renewable rate and the demand from external markets.

“During this game, they share their experience and knowledge while also listening to the others without any aggression or conflict”.

In Cacine there are two groups of fishers – those fishing one-day at a time in small pirogues (a long narrow sea-going canoe): they are Bissau Guinean. The others are a mix of Senegalese and Bissau-Gineans who work for a Korean company currently fishing in the area. These fishers travel for at least a week in bigger pirogues.

Entanglement in fisher equipment and subsequent death is a direct threat to Sawfish populations. Photo: DRDHThus, while Cacine could be described as a town lost among the mangroves which are characteristic of estuarine region, it is also smack bang in the middle of a global conundrum: sustainable fisheries management and the international trade in fish. And the two groups may have different points of view - hence the value of convening a Scene set for the game. Photo: DRDHgame to stimulate constructive discussion.

The organisers invited people from both groups and was designed to sensitize participants on the effects of overfishing on marine resource - including sawfish - while introducing relevant aspects of sawfish biology, all the while focused on the fishers' priority: fishing for a living.

Knowing many of the local fishers well, Ceuna was an ideal facilitator, Cécile says. "With enthusiasm, he conducted Participants spent two hours discussing possible solutions under game conditions. Photo: DRDHthe games with 20 fishers including 3 women". For the next 2 hours over coffee, having learned the rules of the game, the group began discussing and arguing amongst each other while trying to agree solutions that would optimize their resource use as well as protecting sawfish populations.

Sawfishes have been severely depleted in Western Africa due to more intensive human activities in Western Africa: fishing pressure, by-catches and illegal trade in body parts such as rostra, fins, and teeth. Sawfishes need ample, healthy coastal, estuarine, and freshwater habitats, particularly mangroves, which have been disappearing rapidly since 1980.

Ultimately, the project team expects to mitigate the threats to sawfish in Western Africa and to bring knowledge and tools to the fishermen involved in sawfish conservation. To help achieve this, the project is determining and evaluating key areas for sawfish populations while also performing various public outreach and awareness raising activities including radio broadcasting as reported in late 2015, here.

In the most critical places, a trained “Sawfish Alert Network” will regularly collect and provide data on sawfish by-catch either sighted or sold in these areas. Fisher awareness will help to reduce direct or indirect mortality of sawfish, minimizing human interactions and improving general conservation knowledge.

"Their support and contribution to the project is fundamental" states Cécile about the fishers. Using role-play is an effective means to involving local stakeholders in resolving issues that are at once local and global.

As the saying goes " we do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience". And so, it is what the fishers and AfricaSaw do next which will have critical influence on the achievement of the project's aims.

Meanwhile, AfricaSaw will continue implementing the role-play workshops inviting other fisher communities to take part in the game of balancing sawfish and livelihood needs.

This is just one of many anti-poaching projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling a number of high-priority issues. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.

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A catchy song to help save sharks from Costa Rican menus

08 April 2016
Dogandul playing in the streets
Photo: Dogandul

Almost everyone loves a catchy song. Especially Costa Ricans. That's good news for Hammerhead sharks.

Working with Costa Rican music band Dogandul, Andy Bystrom, of SOS Grantee PRETOMA, is seeing changes in attitudes and hopefully behaviours about eating shark meat in local restaurants. For PRETOMA, a popular singalong represented a smart solution to the eternal conundrum: how to engage the general public in conservation issues. Yo No Como Tiburon (I don't eat shark meat) - rallies Costa Ricans to stand for sharks in a fun passionate way.

PRETOMA's work focuses on protecting Hammerhead sharks in Costa Rican waters through a number of activities including advocacy and policy work. Reaching the general public with the conservation message would help generate some debate and publicity for an iconic species and an urgent issue.

Sphyrna lewini Cocos Island. Photo: PretomaOrdering shark, often referred to as "bolillio", "cazon" or "bolillon" on local restaurant menus, is relatively commonplace according to Andy. Changing people's consumption behaviours is never easy, however - governments and companies often spend years and millions of dollars to encourage us to eat more healthily or choose this brand over that.

Fortunately, a catchy fun song championed by a popular band can transcend the need for a mega-budget campaign. Clever marketing you might say: Dogandul have also made the song free to download via their website.

What is more, for Dogandul, the song has become one of their 'titulares' during live shows - part of the set list - and they play a couple of shows a month. Andy advises the band has also done multiple radio interviews talking about the song, the campaign to not eat shark, and the other various environmental projects in which they are participating. "It’s safe to say that the song has reached tens of thousands of listeners via the concerts, their Facebook page and the interviews."

Asked how many people have stopped eating shark meat because of the song, Andy concedes: "that’s tough to quantify but without a doubt it has educated a portion of the public that these confusing names 'bolillo, cazon, bolillon' are really shark. Furthermore, supermarkets must now say that “bolillo, cazon or bolillon” is shark; they can no longer hide behind the misleading names". To clarify, the song didn’t accomplish this alone, but it did contribute to the broader PRETOMA campaign that has achieved this victory.

So, it's Friday, you may not be in the tropics enjoying the sounds of the ocean, but you can catch a bit of that latin vibe playing Dogandul's "Yo No Como Tiburon". Dance along and share it with your friends any way you can!

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