Sharks were once “expected anywhere at any time,” (Baughman & Springer, 1950); but due to human encroachment and destructive tendencies, sharks today are “expected anytime almost nowhere” (Ward-Paige et al., 2010).
A number of anthropogenic influences have led to the decline of elasmobranch populations over the past century.
- As human populations expand and greater numbers inhabit coast lines each year, coastal development continues to decimate nearshore habitats (Knip, Heupel, & Simpfendorfer, 2010). Physical destruction of habitats such as mangroves leave juveniles vulnerable to predation and starvation due to low prey availability (Heupel et al., 2007; Jennings, Gruber, Franks, Kessel, & Robertson, 2008).
- Terrestrial runoff reduces water quality, increases pollution levels, and increases sedimentation (Knip, Heupel, & Simpfendorfer, 2010) which have led to a series of documented health conditions among elasmobranchs including infertility (Gelsleichter et al., 2005).
- Elasmobranchs, especially those residing in estuarine and reef habitats,are the most vulnerable to climate change effects (Chin, Kyne, Walker, & McAuley, 2010). These species exhibit slower life history traits than most bony fishes which prohibit them from responding quickly to rapid shifts in their environment due to global climate change (Perry, Low, Ellis, & Reynolds, 2005).
- As global climate continues to rise, seasonal and oceanography events, such as temperature correlated seasonal spawning aggregations, may be dramatically affected, which may have traumatic impacts on highly migratory species such as whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) (Stewart & Wilson, 2005; Wilson et al., 2006; Wilson, Taylor, & Pearce, 2001).
- Perhaps the most likely driver for elasmobranch population decline over the last century has been fishing and finning pressures from the Asian seafood market (Clarke, 2004). The demand for shark fins from the Asian market has been increasing for decades, as Hong Kong continues to import fins from over 120 countries and regions (Clarke, 2004). With prices for fins increasing to nearly US$400 per kilogram on the Asian market, and shark meat fluctuating, sharks are harvested for fins alone (Clarke, 2004; Stewart, 2008).
The current rates of harvest and population declines are not sustainable. It is estimated that if fishing mortalities continue at their current rates, we may see declines to as little as 1% of the population in the next 40 years (Ward-Paige et al., 2010).
Flannery, A. [Amanda Flannery]. (2017, April 16). Project Earth PLusOne: An Ocean Without Sharks . Retrieved April 16, 2017, from https://youtu.be/XrhnEGpDruY
Luckily there are amazing people out there who are getting involved and giving sharks and rays a voice. You can get involved and give sharks and rays a fighting chance. They have helped maintain marine ecosystems as apex and meso predators for over 400 million years. Let’s help them do it for another 400 million.
Each of these charities and organizations have a number of ways to get involved, from donating to campaigns to volunteering. Here’s how you can GET INVOLVED!
Call Your Congressman
- Call your US Congress man or woman! Make sure he or she knows that sharks and rays matter! Remember sharks and rays cannot speak for themselves and legislation is incredibly difficult to pass without public support. Make sure your representatives KNOW that you care about keeping sharks and rays in our oceans for generations to come.
Sign a Petition
- Sign a Petition to Tell Congress to Ban the Trade of Shark Fins in the United States Sign Today!
- Check out these US restaurants that serve Shark Fin Products. Boycott, Call, Mail, etc. Tell them you refuse to support them as a business if they continue these practices!
Make Informed Sea Food Choices
- SeaFood Watch and App from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Elasmobranch Conservation Organizations
SharkSavers.org (A WildAid Charity)
SharkSavers has 4 wonder campaigns that you can donate to to help sharks and rays
- I’m FINished with FINS informs consumers about the health and environmental dangers of eating shark’s fin soup.
- SharksCount engages divers as citizen scientists for sharks, powering divers to count and identify sharks as they recreational dive.
- Shark Sanctuaries address both economic and environmental considerations, creating Shark Sanctuaries that are viable because they produce a tangible economic benefit to local populations and provide sustainable financed enforcement of fishing regulation.
- Manta Ray of Hope is a joint initiative that includes field investigators, leading scientists, and researchers to further the conservation of manta and mobula rays.
- Sea Shepherd’s founder Captain Paul Watson has a reputation for pursuing illegal whalers and longliners, harassing seal cullers, organizing rallies, and generally irritating governments that would rather turn a blind eye, and infuriating fishing consortium who would rather go about their illegal and often cruel practices unnoticed.
- The Sea Shepherd crew have been deported, locked up, threatened, and roughed up on many occasions.
- If Sea Shepherd seems like a worthwhile organization with which to take a stand, you can help them in a variety of ways. Joining Sea Shepherd with a modest contribution, helps with the provisioning, fueling, and maintenance of their ships. As a member you may also have the chance to sign on as a volunteer for a tour of duty on one of their campaigns. On their website they list what skills they are looking for in new crew members but they also take unskilled deckhands that are willing to work hard.
- The Shark Alliance is a not-for-profit coalition of non-governmental organizations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving European fishing policy. Because of the influence of Europe in global fisheries and the importance of sharks in ocean ecosystems, these efforts have the potential to enhance the health of the marine environment in Europe and around the world.
- The mission of the Shark Alliance is two-fold: To close loopholes in European policy regarding the wasteful and unsustainable practice of shark finning; To secure responsible, science-based shark fishing limits for long-term sustainability and ecosystem health.
- The Shark Angels are raising awareness on the plight facing sharks, giving the world a new perspective on these misunderstood animals, and often, in the trenches, stopping the slaughter of sharks, protecting them from our collective greed and ignorance. Shark Angels are all about action.
- The Angels have a singular goal and believe that by harnessing the power of the passionate, together, we have the power to do what many disbarment efforts cannot: together we can save sharks. The Shark Angels raise awareness to the critical issues and also attempt to change perspectives.
- If you’re a recreational diver, Project Aware is a fantastic charity to get involved in! Focused on citizen science projects in ocean debris reporting and cleanups, as well as shark and ray responsible tourism practices, there are plenty of ways for divers to enjoy their hobbies and join a great cause at the same time.
- Not a diver? No problem! Join a charity run, or start your own event!
Coral Reef Restoration Projects
- Coral Restoration Foundation is a nonprofit ocean conservation organization working to restore coral reefs, educating others on the importance of the oceans, and using science to further research and monitoring techniques. Coral Restoration Foundation is dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species. These programs have allowed Coral Restoration Foundation to take the lead in innovative nursery and restoration techniques that are implemented worldwide.
- Originally founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community around conservation, CORAL has grown from a small, grassroots alliance into a world-renowned organization with a history of successfully working with local communities in coral reef regions around the world to protect their coral reefs. Coral believes that for conservation to be durable, their interventions must be aligned with the social, cultural, and economic needs of each community, and that local leaders must be empowered to lead the effort.
- The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program brings together expertise from across NOAA for a multidisciplinary approach to studying these complex ecosystems to inform more effective management. They work closely with NOAA scientists in the National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.
Chow, K. [Kelvin CHOW]. (2017, April 21). Deepblu Earth Day . Retrieved April 21, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTTG7QLiw0U
If you know of any great organizations supporting shark and ray conservation, please share with me by leaving me a comment! I’d be happy to include more ways for people to get involved with the organization that is the right fit for them!
Featured Image Source:
Reef Shark [Digital Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.visitsealife.com/azure/media/1099/brp-shark-bg.jpg?quality=80&w=640&format=jpg&h=640&mode=crop&scale=both
Baughman, J. L., & Springer, S. (1950). Biological and economic notes on the sharks of the Gulf of Mexico, with especial reference to those of Texas, and with a key for their identification. The American Midland Naturalist, 44(1), 96–152.
Chin, A., Kyne, P. M., Walker, T. I., & McAuley, R. B. (2010). An integrated risk assessment for climate change: Analysing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Global Change Biology, 16(7), 1936–1953.
Gelsleichter, J., Manire, C. A., Szabo, N. J., Cortés, E., Carlson, J., & Lombardi-Carlson, L. (2005). Organochlorine concentrations in bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo) from four Florida estuaries. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 48(4), 474–483.
Heupel, M., Carlson, J.K., Simpfendorfer, C. A. (2007). Shark nursery areas: concepts, definition, characterization and assumptions.Marine Ecology Progress Series, 337, 287–297.
Jennings, D. E., Gruber, S. H., Franks, B. R., Kessel, S. T., & Robertson, A. L. (2008). Effects of large-scale anthropogenic development on juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) populations of Bimini, Bahamas. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 83(4), 369–377.
Knip, D. M., Heupel, M. R., & Simpfendorfer, C. A. (2010). Sharks in nearshore environments: Models, importance, and consequences. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 402, 1–11.
Perry, A. L., Low, P. J., Ellis, J. R., & Reynolds, J. D. (2005). Climate change and distribution shifts in marine fishes. Science, 308(5730), 1912–1915.
Stewart, B. S., & Wilson, S. G. (2005). Threatened fishes of the world: Rhincodon typus (Smith 1828) (Rhincodontidae). Environmental Biology of Fishers, (74), 184–185.
Stewart, R., Alliance Films (Firm), Sharkwater Production (Firm), & Diatribe Pictures (Firm). (2008). Sharkwater. Montréal: Alliance Films.
Ward-Paige, C. A., Mora, C., Lotze, H. K., Pattengill-Semmens, C., McClenachan, L., Arias-Castro, E., & Myers, R. A. (2010). Large-scale absence of sharks on reefs in the Greater-Caribbean: A footprint of human pressures. PLoS ONE.
Wilson, S. G., Polovina, J. J., Stewart, B. S., & Meekan, M. G. (2006). Movements of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) tagged at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Marine Biology, 148(5), 1157–1166.
Wilson, S. G., Taylor, J. G., & Pearce, A. F. (2001). The seasonal aggregation of whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia: Currents, migrations and the El Niño. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 61(1), 1–11.