Why it is in your best interests to support shark conservation

The short answer is, “kill the sharks and ultimately you kill the people!” Now this is a fairly strong statement, so let me explain how this is true from my layman’s point of view.

There are a few fundamental things we need to understand about the ocean. Firstly, about one third of the planets food resources come from the oceans. Secondly, the oceans produce more oxygen than all the rain forests on the planet combined. Thirdly, the oceans remove half the planets carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere. The oceans also control the worlds temperatures and weather systems. If we mess with the ocean’s delicate balance, we literally mess with our continued life on earth as we currently know it.

Most of us have grown up understanding biomass pyramids or food pyramids. We understand that at the bottom (base) we get the largest biomass e.g. plants and other vegetation. In the middle, the herbivores (deer, antelope, cattle etc.) and at the top, a far smaller number of predators, the carnivores (lion, leopards etc.). Most of us also understand that if we remove the predators, the herbivores increase in number and they in turn flatten the grazing. In the ocean, this pyramid is inverted. The cap is at the bottom and this holds the vegetation, plankton etc. The middle, all the fish that feed on the vegetation, and the top (base) the largest group the predators. At the top of this are the apex predators, namely sharks. This is known as an Inverted Biomass Pyramid.

Why does this happen?

In water for the most part, the reproductive rate of organisms increase as you move down the pyramid. This is opposite to what generally occurs on land. Biomass or the total energy from all things, is largest on land at the base level, the producers (vegetation). In the ocean or aquatic environment, it’s reversed.

All ecosystems are a lot like an old fashioned wooden barrel. Each slat or plank representing a different organism, species or nutrient. Some of these planks are wider and some very narrow, but together, they form a barrel filled with water (total sustainable life). If any one of the slats is too short, the barrel can only be filled to that level. It does not matter how much you increase the length of the other slats, you can not fill it any higher than the lowest slat. It is a very delicate balance and only when all the slats are in harmony can the barrel sustain it’s largest potential volume.

Sharks

90% of all sharks have been wiped out or are under threat, up to 100 000 000 (one hundred million) sharks are killed every year. That works out to about 10 000 sharks every hour, based on scientific studies according to the Pew Trust. This rate of extermination far exceeds the sharks abilities to reproduce at sustainable levels. Sharks reproduce slowly, most species take a decade or more to reach maturity, and they do not produce young in large numbers. They also occupy a very niche place in the marine environment.

Sharks improve the health of our marine environments by removing the weak and sick. They scavenge the dead and cull the species of fish that have become overly abundant. This in turn limits the amount of pressure on the reefs from specific species, allowing the sea grass and other organisms to flourish without being excessively harvested. Just like the escapement mechanism in a clock. The component that regulates time, and makes all the cogs tick at the right speed in order to keep accurate measure. So sharks regulate the marine ecosystem. Remove the sharks and we will cause population explosions, resulting in die off’s and the destruction of reef systems. There are numerous studies showing, that when sharks are targeted in fisheries, because they are seen as competition, there is a collapse in the system. If the sharks are culled, the ray population increases, they in turn prey heavily on the scallops and clams, this results in a reduction of fish that feed on them, causing an even greater reduction in the fisheries total returns and eventual closure. The more sharks there are, the healthier our marine environment, which in turn impacts on man’s economic, environmental and food stability.

Sharks literally govern how healthy the oceans are and indirectly how healthy the planet is. By tampering with the shark populations we mess with our food resources and indirectly our greenhouse gas levels, temperature, and weather. They are one of the cornerstones to a sustainable planet. They have occupied this niche for millions of years, that is until man came along and started destroying the balance of nature.

Besides,

  • Shark fin soup has no significant nutritional value and should be banned outright.

  • Sharks kill less people every year than ‘coconuts’.

  • Sharks do not compete with fisherman for fish, they are the reason there is an abundance of fish.

  • The value of a shark for current commercial use in the food industry, is just R 700 ($ 50). To the tourist industry in the Bahamas, the value is R 3 500 000 ($ 250 000). One shark for the tourism and diving industry in a country like Belize, will bring in R 28 000 000 ($ 2 000 000 (two million) over its lifetime.

  • Sharks allow coral reefs to recover much quicker, from bleaching and die off, they also limit the extent of these incidents. This in turn increases tourist revenues from diving and sport fishing.

Come on folks its not rocket science, conserve our sharks!

This is why I have chosen to support Shark Conservancy in South Africa and Marine Action Research in Mozambique on this 500sunsets expedition. Their work is vital, and I urge people to help them in their research, and to conserve our sharks by making a donation.

References

Stanford University https://stanford.edu/~ferretti/assets/LenfestRSEcologyLetters.pdf

Sea Shepherd https://www.seashepherd.org.au/apex-harmony/overview/shark-importance.htm

eu.oceana.org/en/importance-sharks

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