Shark populations are in trouble globally
02 March, 2013
Sharks are often “apex” or top predators, helping to regulate species abundance and diversity while maintaining balance throughout an ecosystem. Studies have shown that coral reef ecosystems with high numbers of apex predators tend to have greater biodiversity and higher densities of individual species.
The loss of apex predators in a reef ecosystem upsets the natural food web and changes the composition of the reef community, eventually leading to the decline of critical reef species like herbivorous fish. With fewer herbivores, algae can become overgrown, suffocating the reef and reducing the number of available niches for fish species. Caribbean Reef Shark by Jeff Yonover.
In addition to being important for overall ecosystem health, sharks are also valuable to the tourism industry and to the economic health of coral reef destinations. A recent report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that shark tourism accounts for approximately eight percent of the G.D.P of the island nation of Palau. The study showed that the roughly one hundred sharks inhabiting the most popular dive sites in the area were each worth $179,000 annually to the local tourism industry, giving each shark an approximate lifetime value of $1.9 million.
Despite their ecologic and economic value, shark populations are declining at an alarming rate. Roughly thirty percent of shark species are threatened or nearly threatened with extinction, and the status of another roughly fifty percent is unclear due to insufficient data.
Intense commercial fishing is largely to blame for the decline, and shark finning-the practice of removing a shark’s fins and discarding the rest of the animal to die at sea-is particularly rampant. This practice is driven by demand for shark fin soup, a delicacy that creates a lucrative market for shark fins.
SHARK fin meals are high on the menu list at banquets across Sydney this week as the city’s Chinese population celebrates the Lunar New Year. But the Federal government has no idea if any of the fins have come from countries where they are sliced off living sharks before their twitching bodies are dumped back into the ocean.
“Live finning” of sharks is considered one of the most inhumane, wasteful and cruel practices in the global animal trades and shark finning is a leading cause of a massive decline in shark numbers around the world over the past decade.