Proven: Marine Protected Areas Boost Shark Populations

Proven: Marine Protected Areas Boost Shark Populations

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In a groundbreaking study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, over one hundred marine scientists uncover compelling evidence of the profound benefits of fully protected marine areas in nurturing shark populations and preserving marine ecosystems.

Nurse sharks mating
Nurse sharks preparing to mate (Harold 'Wes' Pratt / Granted by source)

The study, spanning 66 marine reserves across 37 countries worldwide, sheds light on the stark contrast in shark abundance between fully protected zones and areas open to industrial fishing. Reef-dwelling species such as Caribbean reef, grey reef, whitetip reef, and nurse sharks exhibited nearly double the population density within fully protected marine reserves compared to fishing-permitted zones.

Importance of sharks

Lead author Enric Sala, renowned marine biologist and founder of Pristine Seas, underscores the critical role of sharks in maintaining ocean health. "More sharks signal a healthier ocean," Sala emphasised. "They are the bedrock of ecosystems, under threat from the climate crisis, overfishing, and more."

Problem of damaging fishing gear

The research highlights not only the efficacy of marine protected areas (MPAs) but also the synergistic benefits when combined with strategic fisheries management measures. Areas bordering fishing zones with regulations on catch limits and damaging gear restrictions, such as trawlers, gill nets and longlines, exhibited higher shark populations, further emphasising the importance of integrated conservation efforts.

Reefs can recover

Sala advocated for comprehensive ocean protection strategies, stating, "When we fully protect coral reefs, they bounce back and eventually become more resilient to the impacts of global warming." He urged countries to consider these findings when formulating conservation policies, emphasising the need for balanced management both within and outside of protected areas to ensure the thriving of shark populations and broader marine biodiversity.

As the world grapples with mounting environmental challenges, this study offers a beacon of hope, illustrating the tangible benefits of proactive conservation measures in safeguarding our oceans' most iconic inhabitants and preserving the intricate balance of marine ecosystems.

Pristine Seas
Nature Ecology & Evolution