Is there a particular species which you think epitomises the challenges of conserving freshwater fish?
No doubt, this would be the humpbacked mahseer, one of the world’s largest and rarest mahseer species. Working with colleagues from the Mahseer Trust and the Bournemouth University, I was fortunate enough to have resolved the identity of the humpbacked mahseer – a mystery that lasted for 150 years. A megafish, and an icon of freshwater conservation in the Western Ghats, the humpbacked mahseer has shown catastrophic declines (>90%) since the early nineties, and is now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Despite these striking statistics, there is absolutely no on-ground conservation action in place to save these giants from going extinct! The remaining populations of the humpbacked mahseer lives in some of the remotest habitats in the Western Ghats including the ‘Moyar Gorge’ – also infamous as the ‘Mysore Ditch’. Saving the humpbacked mahseer would mean working in some of these isolated river systems inside forests teeming with wildlife, including elephants, tigers, leopards and bears, and where accessibility is extremely limited, and movement severely compromised.
Why is the research you do so important?
Regardless of over three centuries of ichthyological research, we know very little about the diversity (around 240 new species continue to be described every year!), distribution, biology and ecology of freshwater fish species, thus hindering the development and implementation of on-ground conservation actions. For 90% of tropical freshwater fish species, the only information we have is their name, type locality and basic morphology. Bridging this knowledge gap has been hampered by the lack of organised and continued investment for freshwater science and policy making.
Why are you involved in the Shoal Partnership?
Conserving the world’s freshwater fish species requires a proactive strategy and a combination of approaches from public awareness, to scientific research, and on-ground conservation practice. There is still time to conserve and sustainably manage the Earth’s freshwater biodiversity but we should act now! Shoal arrived at the right time, providing hope that we can all work together to protect critical freshwater habitats and threatened species. It is indeed heartening to see some of the world’s top conservation organisations working for the cause of freshwater species and it gives me immense happiness to be working alongside them.
What can people do to help freshwater fish?
Firstly, freshwater fish need to be recognised and treated as ‘wildlife’! Making sure that freshwaters are not treated as dumping grounds of waste and are allowed to flow freely, will no doubt create healthy ecosystems where fish can survive and flourish.