Why sharks need to be protected

If the overfishing of sharks not controlled in the near future, a total collapse of the marine ecosystems is unavoidable. Sharks are the world’s most abundant predators over 50 kg. Their size, number, and position at the top of the food chain make them the ultimate controllers of the oceans. Jeopardizing this position, hence function, will lead to uncontrollable growth of the formerly balanced fish species on which they fed, which will eventually overburden the food base of these fish species because of their then greatly increased numbers. A chain reaction along all trophic levels will materialize, ending in the total collapse of a food web. This will eventually also alter and likely destroy the lowest trophic level - the algae - the producers of the majority of oxygen on this planet.

What can we do?

Only a handful of shark species are on the CITES endangered species list, such as whale sharks, white sharks, and basking sharks. Although this protection will help these species to prolong their existence, it will not help the overall plight of sharks, consisting of more than 500 species. It is estimated that between 30 and 40 plant and animal species vanish on a daily basis - without any noticeable effects on their environment.

This raises the question that with shrinking monetary resources, is it justifiable to protect rare or endangered species or should the overall stability of the seas be protected by spending the money primarily on those species that are still plentiful and, therefore, still contribute to the health of the different ecosystems? Considering the amount of time, money and energy it takes to just get one single species accepted by the member nations of CITES, one has to ask if the success for such a species really counts in the big scheme of things.

From a species diversity aspect it counts, from a more ecological or economical impact point of view, hardly. In a time where global campaigns fight for a cleaner environment, it should be a prime aspect to protect the abundant (!) species. It is those species that will have a lasting effect on nature’s stability and balance. Despite that every species is worth protecting, money and efforts will unfortunately have to shift to those animals whose survival still has a balancing effect on nature should not more funds made be available.

Text: Dr. Erich Ritter

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