Thousands of hours of underwater recordings on reefs show that sharks have become “functionally” extinct in 20% of them.

White shark in Bahamas

The sharks are “functionally extinct” in 20% of the world’s coral reefs, as discovered by the Global FinPrint project that since 2015 has analyzed more than 15,000 hours of recording in 371 of these ecosystems.

“In these reefs the sharks are functionally extinct, although it is probable that there are a few specimens left and that we would not see them, this means that there is such a low level that they are not contributing to the ecosystem as they would normally do ”, he explained to Efe Demian Chapman, professor at Florida International University (FIU) and participant in the initiative.

The first conclusions of the project, whose objective is to quantify threatened species and in which five universities and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences participate, were released this Wednesday along with incredible images of the largest marine predators.

Using underwater cameras in 58 countries, Global FinPrint recorded the marine life of coral reefs and obtained not only data from sharks but also from other species like the stingrays or sea turtles.

Chapman indicated that this shortage of sharks in some places was “shocking” since they estimate that before the human presence “There were on all reefs”, but populations have declined mainly due to the fishing exploitation.

Virtually no sharks were found on the reefs of Dominican Republic, Kenya, Vietnam, Qatar, the French Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles. In those places only three sharks in more than 800 hours of recording.

Shark tourism

Thanks to the “Max In” technique, which consists of carrying out an accounting of the maximum number of sharks that appear on the screen every hour, it was also shown that in countries where they have been implemented fishing restrictions The conservation measures, as is the case of Bahamas, there was a larger shark population.

This country is one of many that benefit from the existence of sharks in its waters. Bahamas receives every year $ 120 million from tourism related to these living beings.

This is not the only place where this symbiosis occurs and, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 500 million people in the world depend on Coral reefs where these creatures live.

The project and the recommendations of this group of scientists have also served to create shark sanctuaries in places where this species was previously threatened, as has happened in Belice, the former British colony in Central America.

On the other hand, the study indicated that in places that are densely populated, there are little government control and aggressive fishing gear, like in the Jamaican or Colombian coast, the sharks were in much smaller number.

However, Chapman reiterated that the data obtained “show that no need to totally ban fishing“And that” if the restrictions are combined with these protected areas, it can mean a positive change for this species ”.

“This is very important because a large part of the nations in the world are willing to prohibit fishing, so by imposing these restrictions we have a wide variety of tools and choose the best one for the sharks as well as for the population ”, he added.

Public relations for sharks

Chapman has spent decades studying these “fascinating animals,” which “they have always had a bad image“.

Many people are afraid of them because relate them to attacks on human beings, So this study is a way for them to “have public relations workers,” he stressed.

The International Shark Attack Center (ISAF) recorded in 2019 a total of 64 unprovoked shark attacks, a year in which there was a notable decrease in the number of these incidents but the death average was maintained caused by sharks.

Although the attacks are a matter of concern, this expert reiterated that “the reality is that there are a bigger problem that is the loss of this species“.

Although this more than 400 million year old species has survived mass extinctions throughout history, Chapman believes that we must “act now” to preserve the number of sharks and that they can survive the lashes of the climate change or of the human being.