Sharks play an essential rol in the health of our oceans

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A decade of shark conservation

An oceanic whitetipe approaches. Picture: Neil Hammerschlag

During the meeting of the European Elasmobranch Association in Plymouth end of last monh, scientist Sarah Fowler presented a fascinating lecture on more than three decades of shark conservation. The early years were years of data deficiency, efforts to get sharks and rays on the CITES lists, and battling public perception of sharks, their behaviour and their key role in our oceans. Sarah depicted difficult times.

Shark numbers have declined seriously, but luckily, attitudes have at least changed. In a blog on the website of National Geographic, Neil Hammerschlag and Austin Gallagher write about the last decade of shark conservation: “Shark Declines: Fuel for a Decade of Conservation Effort”.

Ten years ago, shark conservation was catapulted in the public spotlight after the highly publicized report “Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the northwest Atlantic” by Baum and colleagues, in the journal Science. He used fisheries logbook data and presented shocking and significant changes in abundance for many species of shark off the Northwest Atlantic over multiple decades.
Recent research work has documented similar patterns of declines in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as shifting baselines of predator biodiversity in the Central Pacific). The declines in many shark populations over the past decades have also generated species-specific risk and threat analyses (i.e., ecological risk assessment, stock assessment, IUCN Red Listing). The take-home message that has seemed to resonate with the public is that populations of shark species are drastically declining globally, despite not all shark populations being a cause for concern.

An interesting blog entry, that also mentions new research technologies, collaborations between national authorities, the public and scientific communities have also been creating shark-specific marine protected areas known as shark sanctuaries and shark diving ecotourism, a widespread and economically important industry that is now one of the strongest contemporary arguments for their protection. According to the authors, over the next decade, shark conservation efforts will continue to shift its focus from largely describing shark declines to finding and implementing tangible solutions.

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