Top photo by Ryan Walton
An estimated 63-273 million sharks are killed annually and research has shown some shark populations have decreased by approximately 90% – 99% in some areas. Leading experts in the study of shark reproduction agree that shark fisheries are not being managed in a sustainable fashion due the fact that sharks have a later reproductive maturity and longer reproductive cycle. Therefore, sharks are easily susceptible to overexploitation. Many of the species encountered during shark-focused ecotourism excursions off the southeast coast of the U.S. are listed as threatened or near threatened by the IUCN Redlist. Great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) are listed by the IUCN as Endangered, dusky (Carcharhinus obscurus) and sandbar (Carhcharhinus plumbeus) are considered Vulnerable to extinction and silky (Carcharhinus falciformis), tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier), and lemon (Negaprion brevirostris) are categorized as Near Threatened with extinction.
Shark conservation through education is one of the most effective platforms to promote and support the importance of sharks to the public, which translates to better fisheries management and a broader concern for threatened and endangered shark species as a whole. Shark ecotourism in the U.S. allows tens of thousands of people annually to discover, learn, and understand the importance of sharks to our oceans’ ecosystem on a global scale. The loss of this activity could potentially be the loss of valuable data collected by shark diving operators that is used by researchers to learn more about many shark species.
Sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of the ocean waters not only surrounding the United States, but across the entire planet. One of the primary ways shark conservation gains public support is through shark ecotourism. If banned and made illegal, this critical platform would be silenced and public support for shark conservation will decline. Many scientific evidence-based and peer reviewed studies have concluded that if sharks continue to be harvested from our oceans at current rates, there will be negative effects to local marine ecosystems, eventually affecting the health of our coastlines and all those who depend on them to make a living.