TOWNSVILLE, Australia — Sharks are rarely seen on close to 20% of the planet’s reefs right now, according to a troubling new study by James Cook University researchers. Simply put, scientists conclude that sharks in these areas are, for all intents and purposes, “functionally extinct.”
This was no small project. More than 370 reefs from 58 different countries were examined for this research.
“This doesn’t mean there are never any sharks on these reefs, but what it does mean is that they are ‘functionally extinct’ – they are not playing their normal role in the ecosystem,” says Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, a study co-author, in a release.
The study finds that a handful of nations barely show any shark activity at all on their nearby reefs. These countries include Vietnam, Kenya, Qatar, the Windward Dutch Antilles, the Dominican Republic, and the French West Indies. Collectively, these six countries account for 69 of Earth’s reefs.
“In these countries, only three sharks were observed during more than 800 survey hours,” Professor Simpfendorfer adds.
According to Dr. Demian Chapman, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Institute of Environment at Florida International University, there’s no mystery associated with these findings. Chapman, also a co-lead with Global FinPrint, believes shark population declines are directly tied to a combination of high human population densities, neglectful governments, and dangerous fishing practices.
“We found that robust shark populations can exist alongside people when those people have the will, the means, and a plan to take conservation action,” Dr. Chapman says.
The study’s authors went on to say that both the United States and Australia are among the most adept nations when it comes to protecting shark populations.
“We’re up there along with such nations as the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia and the U.S. These nations reflect key attributes that were found to be associated with higher populations of sharks: being generally well-governed, and either banning all shark fishing or having strong, science-based management limiting how many sharks can be caught,” Simpfendorfer comments.
All in all, while these findings are no doubt upsetting, they also offer a glimmer of hope.
“The data collected from the first-ever worldwide survey of sharks on coral reefs can guide meaningful, long-term conservation plans for protecting the reef sharks that remain,” concludes Jody Allen, co-founder and chair of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
The study is published in Nature.