Photo by : @Alexkyddphoto
Hello again Akua mermaids!
This month I have been visiting home again as the rainy monsoon season has been visiting Koh Tao.
Luckily summer has come a little early for Melbourne so I have been taking advantage of the beautiful weather, and had a few watery adventures!
So... This month I thought we would talk about an animal that is very close to many ocean conservationist’s hearts-
Sharks are incredibly misunderstood animals, especially here in Australia. Our media has unfortunately exaggerated many shark related incidences which is creating a fearful and sometimes hateful attitude towards these extraordinary animals. It is of course true, that sharks do unfortunately (and rarely), contribute to human deaths.
However, let’s look at some statistics shall we! Worldwide, there are an average of six shark related deaths per year (looking at numbers from the past decade). This number is incredibly low considering the billions of hours humans collectively spend in the ocean per year. This stat alone demonstrates how hugely the media has blown up the apparent ‘problem’ that sharks cause us. Sharks are apex predators that certainly deserve our respect and caution, but for the most part they are not an animal that we need to fear.
Photo by : @ellehaskin
I would also like to mention that we as a species kill over 100,000,000 sharks per year. There are many ways in which we do this, with the biggest threat by far being overfishing. By this I refer to anything from shark fishing for shark fin soup(1), to sharks being caught through by-catch(2). However climate change, pollution, and loss of habitat due to coastal development are also having a large impact.
1- sharks are fished for their fins to contribute to the demand for shark fin soup; an unfortunate delicacy in some Asian cultures.
2- by-catch refers to non-target marine species which are caught by accident often during large scale fishing practices, they can be returned to the ocean but many individuals do not survive the stress)
But hey! Why should we care ?
Well, healthy shark populations are incredibly important to us- I understand that this can seem a little obscure seeing as they are ocean inhabitants and we are land animals, but I’ll briefly explain now.
They keep the ocean food chain in order. As apex predators of the ocean, sharks keep the numbers of animals that live in lower trophic levels(3) at healthy abundances. In doing so, sharks indirectly maintain coral reefs; seagrass beds, and even keep our fisheries viable.
3- trophic level refers to a group of organisms that occupy the same level in the food chain, for example- herbivores occupy the trophic ‘level’ of being primary consumers, being that they only eat plants, which are primary producers)
Photo from : dive.in
Photo from : funchap.com
Here is an example to how they help our coral reefs <3
If there weren’t enough sharks, prey species such as groupers would overpopulate. This would lead to a decline in herbivorous fishes (which groupers eat). Herbivorous fish largely feed on algae, which are plants which compete with coral for space. This would likely lead to a steady decline in coral reef.
Here’s a little more info on the fishing industry:
- Over fishing from any trophic level can impact the animals above and below it in the food web
- Large-fish stocks have already plummeted 90% since the 1950’s
- The UN food and agriculture organisation estimates that 70% of fish populations are already at crisis, fully utilized or are over fished
- Industrial fishing has disproportionally targeted fish in the higher trophic levels
- Even farmed-bred fish often relies on wild-caught fish for feed
- Shark fin soup is a wasteful practice that involves harvesting only the fins, and then discarding the sharks back into the ocean where they die
How does keeping the food chain in order affects us?
There are two main ways,
1. For food
2. For economic value
As we discussed above, sharks have both direct and indirect effects on coral reef ecosystems, which in turn impacts fish stocks. We have over 1 billion people who live along coastal areas, and many of them rely on small scale fishing as a main source of protein in their diets. Having a declining shark population severely affects these communities. The role of sharks is therefore crucial to the wellbeing of so many people, so are obviously worth protecting!
Photo by : bite-back.com
The fishing industry and shark fin soup trade are both doing unbelievable damage to our ocean shark populations, we can say no to both of these short-term profiting industries to help sharks, and of course try to educate others on these pressing issues, and support governments who take ocean preservation seriously.
The other point mentioned is economic value. Coral reefs around the world provide income through tourism, which are heavily impacted by sharks and the role they play in the ecosystem.
Shark diving as a tourist activity is also gaining popularity, as more people are becoming interested by these incredible creatures. Over their lifespan, a shark can be worth nearly two million USD to the tourism industry.
So, healthy shark populations keep lower trophic levels in check, which keep the animals below them in check, and so on so forth. Pretty much, healthy sharks mean a healthy ocean!
Another insanely cool side, so incredible that I can’t NOT mention it; the ocean produces half of the oxygen that we breath-YEP, the ocean provides every second breath we take. So, it’s starting to seem pretty important to protect right!? There is so much interesting information out there on these animals- I hope some of you will look into them a little further, we’ve only just touched the surface on sharks roles today! Perhaps another month we’ll have to chat about sharks a little more!
Til next time! xxxx