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Helping fishers protect dolphins in Sarawak, Borneo

Fishing nets are bad news for dolphins and porpoises, so we're working with local fishers in Hong Kong and Sarawak, Borneo to save lives and make sure they can coexist.

The rivers of Sarawak, a state on the northwest tip of the southeast Asian island of Borneo, are home to Irrawaddy dolphins, Indo-Pacific finless porpoises and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. They either live here or come into the rivers to feed and are well-practised at grabbing discarded fish while human fishers haul their nets. Fishing activity in this area is intensive and this habit of hanging around hoping for an easy meal, means that the dolphins and porpoises all too often get entangled in the nets and sadly this the leading cause of death in the area.

Irrawaddy dolphin

You can help make fishing safer.

Located in Central Sarawak, the Rajang-Belawai-Paloh (RBP) Delta is a mix of industrial developments, villages and palm oil plantations amidst mangrove wetlands. Within the delta, there is a large, fan-like inland river system and the mangroves here are relatively undisturbed and remain intact, particularly in the Segama Paloh area. Around 200 licensed fishers use the area, predominantly fishing villagers for whom small-scale fishing provides their main or only source of income.

A shared home. The Rajang-Belawai-Paloh Delta, Sarawak, Borneo.
A shared home. The Rajang-Belawai-Paloh Delta, Sarawak, Borneo.

We're all in this together

To save dolphin and porpoise lives, whilst helping ensure human livelihoods are not threatened, we’re applying everything we’ve learnt in Hong Kong where we’ve been working with local fishing communities to map finless porpoise and fishing activity and identifying areas of high overlap, known as hotspots, where porpoises are vulnerable to being injured or killed by encounters with fishing nets. No fisher wants to harm these little porpoises and by working collaboratively we’re making a real difference to both porpoises and people. By replicating this project and mapping the overlap of the fishing activities with the places the porpoises and dolphins hang out in the Delta we will be able to identify areas that can be better protected and managed, and we can subsequently advise the government and the communities on measures they can take to make their fishing safer.

Sarawak 2
Sarawak 3

A trip across the water to gain valuable knowledge from the experienced team in Hong Kong

Preparation leads to success

To ensure a successful endeavour, we’ve supported researchers from the Sarawak Dolphin Project to recruit local fishers and they plan to start mapping and recording fishing and dolphin activity in May when fishing activities ramp up after the monsoon season. In the meantime, and in preparation for the onset of their project, the Sarawak team headed over to Hong Kong to meet with the team there where they visited the participating fishing communities to learn from their experience. They spent time talking to fishers to understand why they were participating and to compare and understand how they used the tracking devices providing invaluable advice for them to pass on to the Sarawak fishers. The team also had instruction on how to extract, interpret and map the data from the tracking devices so they can hit the ground running when the project gets under way in the coming weeks.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Our seed funding for this project is supporting collaboration between researchers in different parts of the world and providing valuable local capacity building opportunities. Conservation in the future relies on local stakeholders being directly involved and the more we learn, the better able we’ll be to roll out our bycatch reduction work to other regions too, saving dolphin and porpoise lives and helping fishers to keep safe and safeguard their incomes. I’m proud and excited to be a part of it and can’t wait to see what the coming months bring.

Working together to create a world where dolphins, porpoises and people can thrive
Working together to create a world where dolphins, porpoises and people can thrive

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