Why sharks are essential for healthy oceans

School of sharks circling from above

Why sharks are essential for healthy oceans

A summer swim isn’t complete without someone beginning the uncanny “duuuunnnn duun” of the Jaws’ theme song. Sharks, perhaps more than any other species, have been culturally characterized as the most ruthless and terrifying of creatures. Yet, lacking from the cinema screens is the vital role sharks play in our Earth’s marine ecosystems. Without sharks, there wouldn't be the same ocean life as we know it today. The vast life that flourishes beneath the sea is connected to this apex predator and is influenced by whether or not their populations are healthy. 

Sharks are considered a ‘keystone species,’ meaning they have such an impact on their habitat that without them, the entire ecosystem in which they live would be dramatically altered. As apex predators, sharks are at the top of the food chain and extremely important in maintaining the balance of marine life. They do this by keeping prey populations at a healthy number. Sharks regulate species abundance, distribution and diversity, which in turn impacts the health of marine habitats.

Currently, overfishing is doing tremendous damage to the life in our oceans. Aside from global temperature rise brought on my the climate crisis, this is the main contributor to the rapid decline of overall ocean health. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins, meat, livers, and gills and nearly a third of all shark species are endangered. Due to an unwarranted negative reputation in our media, protecting sharks is not widely seen as an urgent conservation issue. However, over 1 billion people depend on seafood as their primary food source and the industry provides over 780 million jobs worldwide. Without shark conservation, catastrophe can occur through loss of these jobs, food security, and incomes.  

There is hope! Many organizations around the world, like the Shark Conservation Fund, are working to protect sharks directly. Other organizations such as Blue Ventures are working for their protection indirectly by protecting marine habitats and engaging coastal communities. Solving the shark extinction crisis depends on a global, coordinated effort to change the policies, laws, and regulations that govern international and national fishing. It also requires a paradigm shift not only in our entertainment and awareness but in our view of the natural world and the role we play in it. Sharks are one of our planet’s oldest species, with fossils dating back over 400 million years. They have played an integral role in marine ecosystem for much longer than we've been around on our shared planet Earth.

It is up to us to change our harmful and unsustainable fishing practices.