09050: Conserving with community the endangered freshwater sawfish in the Fitzroy River

    Travis Fazeldean, a Nyikina-Mnagala ranger, with a tagged freshwater sawfish. Courtesy Adrian Gleiss
    Travis Fazeldean, a Nyikina-Mnagala ranger, with a tagged freshwater sawfish. Courtesy Adrian Gleiss

    Freshwater sawfish populations have declined globally. Recent research suggests that the largest population in WA, which uses the Fitzroy River as a nursery, is also in decline.

    A lack of understanding of the ecology and habitat of sawfish in the river is hindering management of the species, which is known to be affected by barriers to migration such as the Camballin barrage.

    The species is also targeted by fishers for its rostra (saw) and is an important traditional food source at certain times of the year.

    With the help of funding from the State NRM Program, this project will continue a conventional and acoustic tagging program that commenced in 2003. The project will extend upstream to the Fitzroy Crossing area where Indigenous people, such as the Bunuba and Gooniyandi, will be involved.

    The findings will help increase understanding of the behavioural patterns of freshwater sawfish in the river and enable clear actions to be set for their preservation. Community awareness of the threats to the survival of the species also will be enhanced through participation in field work and through the delivery of presentations.

    Investment: $ 160 000
    Other contribution: $ 60 800
    Delivery organisation: Murdoch University
    Project duration: June 2010 - September 2012
    Location: Fitzroy River, Kimberley

    Major project achievements

    • Lack of understanding the ecology and relevance of the freshwater sawfish impedes management plans; remediated through sufficient surveys and analysis of sites.
    • Community awareness was increased through website, print media, t-shirts, documentaries and social media.

    • Assisted on training of three indigenous ranger programmes; trained post-doctoral and post-graduate students.

    Lessons Learnt

    • Community relevance, engagement, education and informing the community through various media sources increases project success.

    Project partners

    National Geographic; Australian Pacific Science Foundation; Fisheries Society of the British Isles; Nyikina-Mangala Rangers; Murdoch University.

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