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

Laura H. McDonnell, Thomas L. Jackson, George H. Burgess, Lindsay Phenix, Austin J. Gallagher, Helen Albertson, Neil Hammerschlag, Joan A. Browder*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As coastal urbanization increases globally, the subsequent effects on marine animals, especially endangered species, inhabiting nearshore waters has become a research priority. The smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata, once abundant in United States 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 them 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 its 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.