Identifying the Last Remaining Areas of the Critically Endangered Largetooth Sawfish in Costa Rica

12 Jun 2020 Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, Central and Latin America Fishes | Habitats | Marine

Mario Espinoza


Other projects

22 Mar 2016

Looking for Lost Fish: Status of the Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) in Costa Rica

21 Jun 2017

Looking for Lost Fish: Status of the Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) in Costa Rica and the Central American Region

20 Aug 2018

Looking for Lost Fish: Status of the Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis Pristis) in Costa Rica and the Central American Region

In 2016, we began a project in which we were able to: (i) investigate the historical and current distribution of the critically endangered largetooth sawfish within Costa Rican waters; and (ii) identify some of the main threats affecting their populations. Our data suggest that the species is likely restricted to some rivers and wetlands in remote locations of the southern Pacific and northern Caribbean regions. Therefore, this project will strengthen research efforts and capacity-building among local fishers to identify and monitor critical habitats of sawfish in Costa Rica and work with the government towards a population recovery program.

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In 2016, we began a project with the support from the RSGF in which we were able to: (i) investigate the historical and current distribution of the critically endangered largetooth sawfish within Costa Rican waters; and (ii) identify some of the main threats affecting their populations.

Based on our results, this species is likely now restricted to large rivers and wetlands in remote locations of the southern Pacific and northern Caribbean regions. These areas are subject to numerous anthropogenic pressures, including illegal fishing, rapid coastal/riverine development leading to mangrove clearing and habitat degradation, pollution, and sedimentation.

The project also had a strong educational and awareness component, which was crucial at changing people’s perceptions and fostered increased involvement of rural communities in the conservation of this large iconic species. Collectively, all of our efforts led to the legal protection of sawfish within Costa Rican waters in November 2017. However, despite these efforts, we continue to receive numerous reports of sawfish landings in some areas, as well as evidence of illegal trade of sawfish between Costa Rica and Latin American countries. According to the Global Strategy for Sawfish Conservation, countries need to minimize and/or mitigate local threats affecting sawfish populations, as well as build capacity, undertake research, education, and outreach activities. Our study sites in Costa Rica are included as priority areas in Central America to carry out these two main actions. Similar efforts combining research and education are currently being replicated in other areas of the world, including Florida, Bahamas, South Africa and Australia. Some of these programs have now over 10-15 years, and they have strong evidence of sawfish population recoveries, which highlight (1) that research and education are key towards sawfish recovery efforts, and (2) that it takes several years and constant financial support to achieve long-lasting conservation goals.

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