Article

Why are Sharks Important?

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Around the world sharks are in big trouble from illegal fishing, shark finning and shark mitigation strategies. As a result, more than 100 million are killed by human impacts each year. At this rate, sharks are quickly headed for extinction.

A number of scientific studies have demonstrated that the depletion of sharks results in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species down the food chain, including key fisheries such as tuna that maintain the health of coral reefs. As important apex predators, sharks have shaped marine life in the oceans for over 450 million years and are essential to the health of our oceans, and ultimately to the survival of humankind.

Sharks ensure our very survival

The frightening reality is, like them or not, sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food, water and air sources.

Sharks keep our largest and most important ecosystem healthy. Our existence, in part, is dependent upon theirs. Sharks have sat atop the oceans’ food chain, keeping our seas healthy for over 450 million years. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.

The shark’s critical role

As the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance and to regulate the oceans. Studies are already indicating that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs.

A world without sharks?

One study in the U.S. indicates that the elimination of sharks resulted in the destruction of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic states of the United States, due to the unchecked population growth of cow-nose rays, whose mainstay is scallops. Other studies in Belize have shown reef systems falling into extreme decline when the sharks have been overfished, destroying an entire ecosystem. The downstream effects are frightening: the spike in grouper population (thanks to the elimination of sharks) resulted in a decimation of the parrotfish population, who could no longer perform their important role: keeping the coral algae-free and therefore reducing the oxygen quantities in our atmosphere. The knock on effects of this could be devastating for all life on Earth.

What legacy will we leave for our children?

We don't hear how the elimination of sharks might impact our best natural defense against global warming. Or how our favorite foods might disappear as a side effect of the extinction of sharks. Or that we could lose more oxygen than is produced by all the trees and jungles in the world combined if we lose our sharks. But we should.

Why we care...

No one knows for sure what will happen globally if shark populations are destroyed, but one should fear the results. Two hundred and fifty million years ago, this planet suffered the largest mass extinction on record, and scientists believe this was caused in part by catastrophic changes in the ocean. Sharks play a keystone role ensuring our seas remain in a healthy equilibrium and do not reach that point again.

This is not about whether sharks are more important than people, its merely an understanding that future generations need healthy oceans and healthy oceans need sharks to maintain them. Sharks keep our oceans healthy, they are like the doctors of the oceans, removing the sick and the weak, they maintain the balance in our oceans. How would we feel and function if all the doctors on land disappeared?

 "if there is one message we are trying to get across here is it that, if we cant save the whales, and the sharks, the turtles, the fish, the great whites and tiger sharks, we are not going to save the oceans. And if the oceans die, we die; we can’t live on this planet with a dead ocean" - Captain Paul Watson. 

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