Coastal waters of southwestern Malaysian Borneo as Important Shark and Ray Area – insights from integrated data poor approaches and way forward

Malaysia is known as one of the top megabiodiverse countries globally, and home to rich species diversity of sharks and rays. However the lack of basic research on taxonomic status, distribution, biology, and fisheries status prevent science-based advocacy for better conservation and management of these animals. I highlight some of the important research findings arising from eight years of shark and ray work conducted with students and collaborators, using integrated approaches of fisheries-dependent surveys, fisher interviews, social media data mining, and morphological and molecular approaches. In particular, I present novel information on two new species records of rhino rays (wedgefish and guitarfish) and their distribution within Malaysian waters, as part of the NAM ZMT fellowship output. These findings provide conservation context for the importance of certain spatial locations, especially southwestern Malaysian Borneo, as potential sanctuaries for diverse species of highly threatened rhino rays. Putting Malaysia on the map as an important shark and ray area may be a beneficial strategy although this comes with trade-offs especially potentially reduced opportunities for small scale fisheries that support the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the country. Opportunities for way forward and broader collaborations with the ZMT community would be highlighted. 

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