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Wednesday
Jul122017

Shark Conservation: Why Is It Important To Protect Our Ocean  Predators?

 

In modern times, the word ‘shark’ has become synonymous with ‘danger’.The rise of blockbuster films such as Jaws and Sharknado and their depiction of sharks as terrifying, merciless human-killers has very much promoted an 'us vs them' mentality surrounding sharks - but are they really deserving of such an infamous reputation?

On average, around twelve people per year die from incidents involving sharks- whereas the number of sharks killed by humans for trade and industry rests at a staggering estimate of 100 million. Even amongst the more vicious species of shark- the great white, for instance- humans are not their preferred species of prey. The only time a human is likely to be attacked by a shark is if that shark is feeling threatened by the human’s presence. Considering an average of 11, 417 sharks are killed per hour for doing nothing other than swimming near the ocean surface, this seems mightily unfair.

It’s enough to make us wonder who the real predator is when it comes to matters of the sea.

So why do we need to protect sharks?

Sharks are an essential part of ocean maintenance: without them, populations of smaller predators are liable to experience exponential growth and disrupt the entire ecosystem- being what we call ‘apex predators’, sharks regulate the species diversity of the ocean and ensure the marine life is balanced. As with any ecosystem, the predators rest at the top of the food chain; when you take the predator away, chaos ensues as secondary predators repopulate rapidly and destroy the balance of that ecosystem.

Flickr | Shark | Bryan ScottWithout sharks, second-tier predators increase abundantly and begin to feed on herbivores such as the parrotfish. As a result, the herbivore population shrinks which has innumerable ramifications for both the ocean ecosystem and the human fishing industry. This is especially important within coral reefs, where the algae that would usually be regulated by herbivores is left to dominate- and eventually destroy- the coral.

Why are so many sharks killed?

The answer to this question is simple. Sharks are killed mainly for profit. Shark fins, especially, fetch extravagant prices in trade and in the food industry. Shark fin soup, widely regarded as an Asian delicacy, has risen in popularity over the last few decades, meaning the number of sharks hunted for their fins has increased. Although virtually tasteless (the flavour comes from the sauce, not the fin itself!) shark fin soup can cost over one hundred US dollars a bowl- sometimes more- depending on the species of shark.

This process of catching shark to take their fins- known as ‘shark finning’- has legal restriction in several countries, yet goes largely unmonitored and still occurs even where there are specific laws against it. The method involves catching a shark in a net, removing the fin, and then releasing it back into the sea- a barbaric process which leaves the shark injured and susceptible to suffocation, blood loss, and attack from other predators.

Whilst shark finning itself may be illegal in some countries, there is nowhere that currently has any restrictions on the trading of shark fins. With how much profit is involved in shark finning, it is unlikely to stop anytime soon unless limitations and laws are put in place to restrict the trade and consumption of shark fins.

Flickr | James Watt/NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries, 2002 | Whitetip Reef Shark in a Cave

What can be done about it?

Whilst shark finning bans are a starting point to tackle the problem of shark endangerment, they are still a long way from being a complete solution. Illegal shark finning still goes on unmonitored in countries that do have bans as it is not enforced heavily enough and lacks the required management. Perhaps what needs to be introduced is a restriction on the trading of shark fins, as this will limit the industry’s power over their profit.

Shark conservation areas- also known as ‘shark sanctuaries’- exist in various locations around the world, working to protect sharks from the dangers of fishing and provide an area in which they are not at threat from human activity. These areas are often absolute in their fishing laws and ensure that sharks are healthy and safe enough to thrive within their natural habitat.

The protection and conservation of sharks is of major importance for our world and the role they play in maintaining our ecosystems should not be undervalued any longer. Say goodbye to the violent beasts depicted in the last Jaws movie- sharks are vital for the survival of our planet and they need our help.

By Kayleigh Crawford - Voices for the Future

Voices For The Future is a platform for the younger generation to have their say about environmental issues, nature, travel and community.

Having a published article online is always  beneficial when applying for work experience, internships, jobs and university applications and we love to hear your opinions. If you are aged 16+ and would like to get your voice heard then send an email to marketing@frontier.ac.uk to register your interest.

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