Investigation shows that coral reef sharks are in danger of extinction

Photo via FIU Flickr

An FIU-led investigation reveals that coral reef sharks are in more danger of extinction than previously thought. 

The recent research paper published in Science revealed that coral reef sharks are being driven towards extinction.

The project, called Global FinPrint, surveyed 391 coral reefs in 67 nations using baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS) to observe groups of sharks, stingrays, and other marine life.

In a Facebook Live interview with Vulcan LLC, Dr. Michael Heithaus said “Global FinPrint is the world’s first global survey of shark and stingray in coral reef ecosystems”.

The study revealed that 60% to 73% of these five species of sharks (caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, gray reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, and whitetip reef sharks) have disappeared from coral reefs due to intense fishing, degraded water, and climate change.

Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou, a biological sciences professor at FIU, is one of over 100 authors of the paper, who explained that results were concerning because low numbers meant that the sharks were “functionally extinct” in multiple areas. 

“We also found the effects that fishing has on the number of sharks and also the diversity of sharks,” said Papastamatiou in an interview with PantherNOW. “Most of the fishing that takes place is primarily toward sharks for their consumption.”

Another observation  made by the investigators was that in some of these reefs where the number of sharks had decreased, there were more rays.

“This is because the sharks are predators or competitors to the stingrays and with the shark’s absence the rays are doing better,” explained Papastamatiou.

However, there are some places where sharks are doing well.

“These places are sanctuaries and protected zones where sharks cannot be touched at all,” said Papastamatiou. Some of these Sanctuaries can be found in Bahamas, The Maldives, and Palau. 

This project comes to life thanks to Doctor Michael Heithaus, Executive Dean of the College of Arts, Science and Education of FIU, and ex- professor Doctor Demian Chapman, making FIU the lead institution of the research.

“FIU is actually the epicenter of this project,” explained Papastamatiou, “ two of the major people running this were from FIU that are Heithaus and Chapman,” added.

Finally, what can be done to help these sharks is being informed.  

“Be aware what the problems with the ocean are and be careful where you get your information, make sure it is a valuable source”, said Papastamatiou.

He also told us two ways to help:

First, if you eat fish make sure it comes from sustainable fisheries, “do your homework on what is ok and what it is not to eat,” said Papastamatiou. 

The other way is by donating to organizations, but to research which of these organizations really help. 

“There are organizations you can get involved with or donate, but be careful because there are a lot of organizations that claim to be for conservation and some of them are good and others are not good.”

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