Sharks play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. As top predators, they maintain balance by removing weak and sick individuals and keeping fish populations balanced to ensure diversity. Their predation tactics keep other species on the move, indirectly working to keep seagrass and coral reefs healthy by preventing them from being overgrazed. Without sharks, large predatory fish (such as groupers) can thrive, feeding on herbivores eventually leading to an abundance of macroalgae. Sharks can also serve as carbon sinks, so increased numbers of sharks could actually help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Sharks can also be a significant economic asset. Through maintaining balance within the oceans, other fisheries can thrive. A decline in sharks can result in a rise in competing species, such as rays, which can wipe out entire scallop and clam populations if left unchecked. Lastly, sharks can be a important driver for tourism. One study estimated that a single reef shark could be worth as much as $250,000 and whale sharks as much as $2 million as a result of dive tourism.
Unfortunately, overfishing, climate change and habitat loss have resulted in an unprecedented loss within shark populations. As many as 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries and some estimates claim many shark populations have declined by more than 90%. This is why the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and its partners are working hard to improve shark conservation through projects like ‘Save Our Sharks’, ‘Caribbean Shark Coalition’ and the upcoming shark expedition to the Saba Bank. Through international collaboration we can work together to help protect this vital species as they continue to face increasing pressures.
In April 2021, members from the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, the DCNA, the Saba Conservation Foundation, and Beneath the Waves conducted multiple ‘scientific firsts’ as part of the “Shark Shakedown” project. The research expedition was a part of a wider research project into tiger sharks in the region funded by World Wildlife Fund for Nature the Netherlands (WWF-NL) through the Biodiversity Funds and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. This special BioNews edition focuses on the “Shark Shakedown”.