Recent Australian research has linked maintaining healthy shark populations to coral cover and the health of coral reefs. A reduce in sharks would pose an increased threat to Australian coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef.
A study was conducted comparing two reefs: one without a healthy shark population, and one with.
Reefs without sharks had a larger abundance of smaller predators (or “mesopredators”) such as snappers and emperors. As a result, there were less herbivorous or algae-eating fish (parrotfishes for example). Herbivorous fish are vital to coral reefs because they consume the algae that otherwise grows on and overwhelms young corals, particularly as they recover from disturbances such as cyclones and bleaching”.
Why are Coral Reefs important?
Aside from containing the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, coral reefs are extremely important. They protect coastlines from wave action and storms, are a source of nitrogen and nutrients for many food chains, assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing, and help with nutrient recycling.
The Great Barrier Reef:
The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s largest and most well-known coral reef, employing over 69,000 people including those engaging in scientific research and management (Deloitte). Australian shark culling, particularly in Queensland, will have an immense impact on the future of The Great Barrier Reef if it continues. This would not only affect Australia’s economy, but would further deplete one of our most abundant underwater ecosystems, a strong focus of Australian, and global, scientific research.
Photo credit: Chris P Leidy