Sharks and rays are among the world’s most threatened species with an estimated 1 in 4 shark species now threatened with extinction. Sharks and rays that are most vulnerable are large bodied, slow moving and live in shallow water. In addition, many sharks and rays are targeted for their high-value body parts (such as shark fins, manta ray gill-plates, or the saw-like bills of sawfish), which are typically used as food or medicine in East Asia. One group of rays that are large, slow moving and live in shallow water – and have high value body parts – are the shovelnose rays. Shovelnose rays include sawfishes, wedgefishes, and guitarfishes, which are among the most threatened of all sharks and rays. With large-scale global population declines, very few shovelnose ray strongholds remain (especially for sawfishes). However, several shovelnose ray species – including four of the five species of sawfish – have been found in the inshore waters of northern Australia and New Guinea.
As a result, since early 2019, WCS PNG has been harnessing local fishers’ knowledge to confirm the presence of these families in New Ireland Province. Thus far there have been reports of over a hundred shovelnose ray sightings in the region including 69 wedgefish, 20 guitarfish, and 20 sawfish reported sightings. As a consequence, WCS PNG is now attempting to collect video footage of shovelnose rays in the region, and develop a shovelnose ray management plan, which will be linked with two marine protected areas being established in New Ireland Province. It is anticipated this work will contribute to the first shovelnose ray protection programme in Papua New Guinea.