Meet Alifa Haque: The Scientist Saving Sawfish

Sawfish are considered to be the most endangered marine fish – this Oceans Month, we’re supporting Alifa Haque and her fight for marine conservation

By Jessica Jurkschat
8 july 2022

Sawfish are unquestionably distinct and unique animals. Known for their saw-like snout, they’re thought to be the world’s most endangered marine fish, with populations declining dramatically due to overfishing, slow reproduction and loss of habitat. Despite once having spanned the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans in large numbers, the shark-like rays have now disappeared from 59% of the world’s coastal waters.

Image: Shutterstock

That’s where Alifa Haque comes in. Alifa is a marine biologist working to protect sawfish, through a community led approach that she is taking with local fishermen. After graduating from her MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from the University of Oxford, she started her engagement in shark and ray conservation after realising that despite its importance as a region, there was very little work on sharks and rays taking place in her home country of Bangladesh. Alifa created a platform for action-based research which focuses on working with local fishers and traders to educate them on sharks and rays.

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‘We work at the challenging intersection of fishing as a means of livelihood generation for poor fishermen and the conservation of species in those same fishing practices. Our biggest challenge is maintaining science-based management actions and facilitating the fishermen to achieve the management goals.’

There are fishermen who would say we don’t have sawfish anymore. In 2016 we did not encounter one single sawfish in at least eight landing sites. So we had an idea that maybe we have lost sawfish altogether… We created a cell phone generated reporting system which was absolutely anonymous from the reporter’s perspective. Using this network we actually encountered more than 40 landings in about 15 months.

We have discovered critically endangered species, including 15 new sharks and rays reported for the first time in just three years. Our most important discovery is the presence of a possibly viable population of the Critically Endangered largetooth sawfish in the estuarine and marine waters.’

Image courtesy of: Alifa Haque

Sawfish play a critical role in our marine ecosystem: they move around sediment and unearth smaller organisms which makes it easier for other animals to find prey. And like other top predators, sawfishes perform a valuable function in keeping our ecosystem balanced. They help to ensure species diversity and serve as key indicators for ocean health by culling out sick or injured prey species such as schooling fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods. 

To protect and preserve the ocean and all it sustains, we must create a new balance, rooted in true understanding of the ocean and how humanity relates to it.  That’s why this Oceans Month, we are partnering with Synchronicity Earth, a UK charity that supports underfunded and overlooked conservation initiatives. From June 8-22, proceeds from the sales of all #TOGETHER products will go towards Alifa’s research and marine wildlife conservation efforts. Help us celebrate and honour the ocean and all marine species by wearing your braided Goal 14: Life Below Water #TOGETHERBAND with pride.


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