Many of the species threatened by overfishing live in coral reefs, which are stressed themselves by warming temperatures, pollution, and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish that can devastate reefs
. Right now we are undergoing a global coral bleaching
event that may have already led to a third of the corals on portions of the Great Barrier Reef dying
. Is the presence of sharks important to ensuring that these reefs can rebound? Probably. On reefs, sharks play important roles in both the middle and top of the food web and likely influence how heavily reefs – and the algae that might overgrow them - are grazed. The threats to reefs, their economic importance (possibly more than $100 billion a year
or more), and risks to fish, sharks and rays that inhabit them are among the reasons my colleagues and I are working on the Global FinPrint project
. Through this program, made possible by Paul G. Allen and Vulcan, we will be able to unravel when, where, and how sharks are important to reef health. More importantly, we will determine where we need to act to protect and rebuild shark populations to ensure thriving reefs for generations to come.
Finally, when considering why we would want to protect sharks I can't help but think of a remark by conservation biologist Dr. Laurence Frank when he was asked why he worked so hard to ensure that lions would not go extinct. A world without lions, he reflected, would be a very sad place. For me, the same holds for sharks. The oceans are simply a better place when they have these amazing animals in them.