In celebration of International Day for Women and Girls in Science, the USP PEUMP project would like to share an exciting new peer reviewed publication by one of our Research Fellows, Dr Kerstin Glaus on rays in Fiji.
Titled Rays in the Shadows: Batoid Diversity, Occurrence, and Conservation Status in Fiji, this multifaceted study represents a significant step forward in understanding and conserving the diverse array of rays and skates inhabiting Fiji’s waters.
Fiji’s waters are not only renowned for their breathtaking beauty but also for the rich marine biodiversity that inhabits its shallows and depths. Among the myriad of marine creatures that call these waters home, batoids, commonly known as rays and skates, play a crucial ecological role. However, despite their significance, the diversity and occurrence of batoids in Fiji’s waters have remained relatively understudied until now.
Combining data from various sources, including literature reviews, participatory science programs, and cutting-edge environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis, the study provided an up to date overview of rays’ diversity and occurrence.
A total of 19 batoid species spanning seven families were identified. Impressively, this included the first-ever photographic evidence of the bentfin devil ray (Mobula thurstoni) in Fiji, marking a significant milestone in marine research for the region. Geographic distribution patterns revealed certain species, such as spotted eagle rays and maskrays, as predominant in the Western Division, while in-person interviews hinted at the potential presence of sawfishes, adding intriguing insights into the region’s marine ecosystem.
Alarmingly, the study highlighted that 68.4% of the documented batoid species face an elevated risk of extinction based on the criteria outlined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This underscores the urgent need for conservation efforts to safeguard these vulnerable species and their habitats.
Challenges and Recommendations
The study also cautioned against relying solely on older literature-based records, citing potential discrepancies, particularly concerning the giant guitarfish, giant stingaree, and the absence of verified sawfish sightings. Moving forward, the researchers advocate for a continued multifaceted approach to studying and conserving ray populations in Fiji, emphasizing the importance of ongoing monitoring and community engagement initiatives.
In conclusion, this study represents a significant step forward in understanding and conserving the diverse array of batoids inhabiting Fiji’s waters. By combining traditional research methods with innovative approaches like eDNA and participatory science programs, researchers have provided a comprehensive baseline that will guide future conservation efforts in the region. However, the findings also serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need to prioritize the protection of these vulnerable marine species before it’s too late.
USP is one of four key implementing partners of the PEUMP Programme, an initiative funded by the European Union and the Swedish government. The overall EUR 45million program promotes sustainable management and sound ocean governance for food security and economic growth while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity. It follows a comprehensive approach, integrating issues related to ocean fisheries, coastal fisheries, community development, marine conservation and capacity building under one single regional action. The PEUMP programme is housed within the Institute of Marine Resources within the School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS).