Global Shark Conservation: Sanctuaries for a Predator in Peril
Swift, graceful, mysterious, superbly adapted to their environment, sharks have been the apex predators of the oceans since long before dinosaurs roamed the planet. For some 400 million years, they have been the unchallenged rulers of the deeps and shallows of the marine world.
No longer. They are falling victim to a fiercer predator that is threatening to end their long reign and driving them to the edge of extinction. That predator is us—people. In recent decades, human appetites, technology, economics, and greed have mounted a ferocious assault on sharks, an assault that is bringing their numbers crashing down throughout the world's oceans.
Killed for their fins, for their flesh, for their skin and other body parts; killed for sport and for souvenirs; killed by accident, sharks are now among the most threatened groups of animals on Earth. Ironically, however, even though people are the principal threat to sharks, they also are their greatest hope.
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The fate of sharks has broad implications. There is increasing evidence that the loss of sharks may have a ripple effect on the vitality of food webs in many areas of the global ocean. “They are our canary in the coal mine of the oceans,” said Dr. Boris Worm, a professor of marine biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
Governments around the world are beginning to recognize the value of healthy shark populations. Some rely on the dollars sharks can bring through dive tourism; some see sharks as culturally significant to legend and tradition. Others are acknowledging that just as a healthy savanna needs its top predators to weed out the weak and infirm, so vibrant marine systems need sharks. Recognizing this opportunity, The Pew Charitable Trusts initiated a campaign to reverse the decline of shark populations worldwide.
At the core of Pew's shark conservation efforts is its work to establish sanctuaries in the waters of key countries and stop the overfishing of sharks in places where they still stand a chance to rebound. Shark sanctuaries provide full protections for sharks in a country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the area of ocean that extends up to 200 miles from shore.
As the continued expansion of industrial fishing leaves few places in our oceans untouched, now is the time to protect these last remaining places where sharks can still rule their marine world.