During the past 70 years, global shark populations have been on the decline. Many species have become threatened or endangered. Conservation efforts have been underway in many places, but shark populations continue to be at risk because of over-fishing and habitat loss.
A comprehensive study by marine biologists at Texas A&M University deployed more than 15,000 baited remote underwater video stations on 371 coral reefs in 58 countries. The study included 59 different shark species in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The researchers were surprised to find that no sharks at all were detected in almost 20% of the locations surveyed and were almost completely absent from coral reefs in several nations.
Scientists believe that demand for shark products, such as fins and meat, and bycatch (that is, sharks captured in nets by fisherman trapping other kinds of fish) are strong contributors to the widespread declines in shark numbers around the world.
The study shows that if corrective steps are not taken in regions where marine management is still ineffective, continued depletion of shark populations is highly likely.
Sharks have important roles in marine ecosystems. When their habitats deteriorate and their populations decrease, ecosystem stability and health is degraded because sharks help regulate prey populations.
Some countries, notably the Bahamas, are combating the problem by providing sanctuaries for sharks where fishing and harvesting is prohibited. Such places support some of the healthiest shark populations in the world. However, the decline of coral reefs is just another challenge facing shark populations around the world.
Photo, posted January 9, 2017, courtesy of Kris-Mikael Krister via Flickr.