Conservation of sharks: safeguarding the apex predators of the ocean

Guest Post


Sharks, the apex predators of the ocean, have captured the imagination of humanity for centuries. As shown in the thriller movie Jaws, sharks are known for the fear they strike at people on a summer beach day. Yet despite the fear they cause humans, sharks are under threat like never before. The conservation of sharks is not merely an ecological concern, but a necessity in making sure that marine wildlife food chain is balanced.

To comprehend the urgency of shark conservation, we must first understand the vital role they play in marine ecosystems. Sharks, as top predators, regulate the populations of prey species, thereby preventing the collapse of lower trophic levels in the food chain and maintaining the overall health of the ecosystem. Moreover, they contribute to the genetic diversity of marine populations, ensuring resilience in the face of environmental changes. Without sharks, the intricate web of life in the oceans would unravel with catastrophic consequences for all marine life, and in turn, humans.

Despite their ecological importance, sharks face numerous threats, primarily driven by human activities. Overfishing, fueled by the demand for shark fins, meat, and other products, poses the most immediate danger to shark populations. According to an early estimate in 2006, up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, primarily for the shark fin trade, many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. It is believed that many shark species have had their populations reduced by 50 percent from 1986 to 2000.

Habitat degradation and loss further compound the challenges facing sharks. Coastal development, pollution, and climate change are altering marine habitats at an unprecedented rate, depriving sharks of critical breeding and feeding grounds. Chemicals contained in waste released in the ocean also contribute to sharks unintentional killings. There are still multiple ways to combat these unintentional killings, however. For example, food safety agencies can conduct frequent checks on shark products. If the contaminants in shark meat and other by-products are above the safe limits, then stopping the trade of these products can lower the sources of pollution, which can also support the long-term viability of shark fishing for the species and regions where this is feasible.

To address these threats and ensure the long-term survival of sharks, concerted conservation efforts are essential. Marine protected areas (MPAs) play a crucial role in safeguarding shark populations by providing sanctuary and refuge from fishing pressure. Organizations like Oceana and the Shark Trust advocate for the establishment and expansion of MPAs and cite their effectiveness in preserving marine biodiversity. Shark Stewards runs many conservation projects, research and education activities, which anyone can join to help conserve sharks.  Public awareness and education also play a pivotal role in shark conservation. Many people believe that sharks are a threat to humans, but in reality, the opposite is true. The likelihood of being struck by lightning is higher than being attacked by a shark. By dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding sharks and highlighting their ecological significance, we can foster a greater appreciation and stewardship for these apex predators. 

The conservation of sharks is not just about saving a single species; it is about preserving the entire marine ecosystem. By recognizing the intrinsic value of sharks and taking action to protect them, we can secure a future where these fascinating creatures continue to roam the oceans for generations to come, and even keep the oceans a healthier place.

Published in Science

Vikram Varikooty