The Conservation Benefits and Ecological Impacts of Displaying Threatened Elasmobranchs in Public Aquaria

The Conservation Benefits and Ecological Impacts of Displaying Threatened Elasmobranchs in Public Aquaria

Mon, 24/06/2013 - 10:30


About the Presenter

Kate Buckley

Kate Buckley trained as a Marine Scientist at James Cook University in Townsville, graduating with honours in 1997. Since then, she has worked in various capacities linked to research and/or wildlife, most recently as the Senior Aquarist at the Territory Wildlife Park where she led research and conservation programs for marine turtles and Largetooth Sawfish.

In July 2012 she was awarded leave by the Northern Territory Government to undertake a PhD at Charles Darwin University, expanding on the Largetooth Sawfish research component of her work. This doctoral research aims to support the management if threatened elasmobranchs by establishing innovative ways to measure the impacts and benefits of harvesting them for display in public aquaria.

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Many modern zoos and public aquaria define themselves as conservation hubs, and this role is widely recognised. In Australia export/import permits for CITES-listed species will not be approved unless the exhibition presents information with a ‘cultural, scientific or conservation content’. Although conservation benefits provide a justification for wildlife trade, no studies have examined the overall conservation benefits of displaying a particular species in a zoo or public aquarium. This information is needed to support environmental and species management decisions such as harvest regimes and trade.

In Australia, the critically endangered largetooth sawfish Pristis pristis and the endangered speartooth shark Glyphis glyphis are harvested for display in public aquaria. The rarity of both species and confusion over their taxonomy has restricted study of their biology and ecology and so the impact of this harvest is unknown. Furthermore, Northern Territory public aquariums release harvested P. pristis back into the natal river system after some time in captivity. Until the survivorship and reintegration into the wild of released P. pristis is assessed, the impact of harvesting will remain unknown.

The aim of this PhD is to quantify both the conservation benefits of displaying P. pristis and G. glyphis in domestic public aquaria and the ecological impacts of harvesting them from the wild. The conservation benefits of displaying P. pristis and G. glyphis in domestic aquaria will be quantified using surveys of managers, staff and visitors. The population structures of both species will be examined in an area of historical aquarium harvest in order to assess the potential impacts of harvesting; and the movement patterns, activity levels and habitat use of P. pristis that have been released from aquaria will be compared to that of the equivalent wild cohort to identify any further ecological impacts. For the first time, an examination of both the social implications and ecological impact of the harvest and aquarium display of P. pristis and G. glyphis will be available to facilitate species management decisions and achieve improved conservation outcomes for the species.

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