Our High and Deep Seas Programme has been focused on these two overlooked areas of marine conservation for seven years. Building on its success, this programme has now been redeveloped into a broader Ocean Programme, expanding into new areas of critical but underfunded marine conservation. Programme and Partner Manager Anna Heath describes this exciting new direction and introduces some of our new partners.
Over the last two years, we have been working away below deck at Synchronicity Earth to build an expanded Ocean Programme. This new vessel is a bit larger than our previous programme, with two additional strands of work added, centring support across the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the High and Deep Seas.
Building on conversations with experts, partners, and colleagues, as well as desk-based analysis and research, this programme is now ready to set sail. In 2021 and early 2022, with the support of a handful of generous supporters, we were able to bring on seven new partners. I’m delighted to finally share with you some of the stories from our new partners, to give you an idea of the exciting journeys we are embarking on.
Whereas the former High and Deep Seas Programme concentrated on those two overlooked areas of marine conservation, the newly developed Ocean Programme has broadened to tackle a wider range of conservation challenges for the global ocean. It channels support to locally-led and grassroots organisations, whilst also funding strategic research and advocacy, focusing on three key strands:
Species and Ecosystems
The ocean is home to the greatest diversity of ecosystems and species on the planet. However, most people probably think of the same handful of species (e.g., whales), ecosystem types (e.g., coral reefs), and threats (e.g., plastic pollution) when thinking about ocean conservation.
Though these are important, we are working to support and spotlight partners that specifically work on overlooked and underfunded species and ecosystems. One of the first ecosystems we zeroed in on under this strand was seagrass, which you can read more about here. On the species side, our first spotlighted species has been the enchanting and highly endangered sawfish.
The fish with a saw for a nose
You only need to take one look at a sawfish to understand where they got their name. With a distinctive, toothed snout that bears an uncanny resemblance to a saw, sawfish are easy to identify (though still somehow confused with swordfish!). While they look like a quirky shark, sawfish are actually classed as rays, and are found in tropical shallows of both marine and freshwater environments.
Sadly, sawfish are arguably the most endangered group of marine fishes in the world, with all five species classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered. Their intricate snout leaves them highly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets, and they are also valued for use in traditional medicine and for cultural purposes.
One of our newest partners in the Ocean Programme, Alifa Haque, is working to reverse the gloomy outlook for sawfishes and other rays in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh. When Alifa first started looking into sawfishes in Bangladesh, she monitored eight official landing sites for a year but did not record one single sawfish. Worried that they might have lost the species altogether in the waters of Bangladesh, she started looking into other ways that they might be able to collect data on these animals. Considering that sawfishes fetch up to USD 400/kg when sold, Alifa suspected that fishers might not want to bring these valuable commodities to official landing sites, instead selling them under the radar.