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ESR 43:543-553 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01085

Saws and the city: smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata encounters, recovery potential, and research priorities in urbanized coastal waters off Miami, Florida, USA

Laura H. McDonnell1,2, Thomas L. Jackson3, George H. Burgess4, Lindsay Phenix5,6, Austin J. Gallagher5,7, Helen Albertson3, Neil Hammerschlag1,2, Joan A. Browder3,*

1Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida 33146, USA
2Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
4University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
5Beneath the Waves, Inc., PO Box 126, Herndon, Virginia 20172, USA
6Three Seas Program, Northeastern University, 430 Nahant Road Nahant, Massachusetts 01908, USA
7Department of Marine Science, Northeastern University, 430 Nahant Road Nahant, Massachusetts 01908, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As coastal urbanization increases globally, the subsequent effects on marine animals, especially endangered species, inhabiting nearshore waters have become a research priority. The smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata, once abundant in US waters, now only persists in a few parts of its former range, including South Florida. Many areas utilized by smalltooth sawfish are estuarine systems or other shallow coastal habitats, making this species particularly vulnerable to threats associated with coastal development. To date, P. pectinata has been understudied in the waters in and around Biscayne Bay, Florida, a coastal waterway subjected to the urbanization of adjacent Miami-Dade County. Here, we summarize data from reported smalltooth sawfish encounters dating as far back as 1895 (N = 90) and detail opportune recordings (incidental catches, acoustic detections, and baited remote underwater videos) of sub-adults and adults (N = 14 individuals) in Biscayne Bay and the adjacent reef tract. These data demonstrate historical and increased contemporary use of the study area by this imperiled species, suggesting potential local and regional recovery. Most documented sawfish occurrences were near the urban center, indicating a need to understand the effects of coastal urbanization on sawfish and on the species' recovery potential. We suggest priorities for future research on P. pectinata in the study area that will assist in addressing regional management goals and contribute to understanding the ecology of smalltooth sawfish under environmental change.


KEY WORDS: Conservation · Southeast Florida · Acoustic array · Endangered species · Urban ecology · Biscayne Bay Habitat Focus Area


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Cite this article as: McDonnell LH, Jackson TL, Burgess GH, Phenix L and others (2020) Saws and the city: smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata encounters, recovery potential, and research priorities in urbanized coastal waters off Miami, Florida, USA. Endang Species Res 43:543-553. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01085

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