Why sharks are essential for healthy oceans

School of sharks circling from above

Why sharks are essential for healthy oceans

A summer swim often conjures the ominous "duuuunnnn duun" of the Jaws theme song. Sharks, more than any other species, have been popularly portrayed as the most ruthless and fearsome creatures. However, what popular culture often overlooks is the indispensable role sharks play in marine ecosystems. Without sharks, ocean life as we know it today would cease to exist. The rich biodiversity flourishing beneath the sea is intricately linked to these apex predators and hinges on their population health.

Deemed a keystone species, sharks exert such a profound influence on their habitats that their absence would dramatically alter the entire ecosystem. As apex predators, they stand at the pinnacle of the food chain, crucially maintaining the balance of marine life by regulating prey populations. Sharks control species abundance, distribution, and diversity, which reciprocally affects the health of marine habitats.

Presently, overfishing poses an immense threat to oceanic life. Besides the rise in global temperatures induced by the climate crisis, this is the primary factor driving the rapid deterioration of overall ocean health. Approximately 100 million sharks are slaughtered annually for their fins, meat, livers, and gills, and almost a third of all shark species are endangered. 

Despite their negative portrayal in the media, protecting sharks is not widely recognized as an urgent conservation issue. Yet, over a billion people rely on seafood as their main food source, and the industry provides over 780 million jobs globally. Without shark conservation, job loss, food insecurity, and income loss can lead to an economic catastrophe.

However, there is hope! 

Organizations worldwide, like the Shark Conservation Fund, are striving to protect sharks directly. Others, such as Blue Ventures, indirectly work towards their protection by safeguarding marine habitats and engaging coastal communities. 

Addressing the shark extinction crisis requires a global, coordinated effort to amend the policies, laws, and regulations governing international and national fishing. It also necessitates a paradigm shift in our entertainment and awareness and our perception of the natural world and our role within it. 

Sharks, one of our planet’s oldest species with fossils dating back over 400 million years, have played a pivotal role in marine ecosystems far longer than we have existed on Earth.

Ultimately, it is up to us to change our harmful and unsustainable fishing practices.

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