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New Study: Threatened Reef Sharks Thrive When Marine Protected Areas Are Strictly Protected

Evidence reinforces importance of fully protected marine areas and supports evidence that ocean conservation and fishing industry profits are mutually beneficial.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 20, 2024)— A new study in Nature Ecology & Evolution by more than 100 ocean scientists finds that fully protected marine areas that ban fishing and other damaging human activities have nearly twice the number of reef-dwelling sharks compared with areas that allow fishing. The study tallied the number of sharks in and around 66 fully protected marine reserves in 37 countries worldwide to discover that sharks like Caribbean reef, gray reef, whitetip reef and nurse sharks benefited most from conservation.

The study, Directed conservation of the world’s reef sharks and rays, also finds there are even more sharks in areas near fishing zones limits—such as catch limits and restrictions on potentially-damaging fishing gear, such as gillnets and longlines. It concludes that MPAs when combined with fisheries management measures like these lead to greater protections of sharks.

The study comes in the leadup to World Ocean Day (June 8) and amid a global effort to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. It also comes as a massive bleaching event is killing off corals around the world.

One of the report authors, Enric Sala, the founder of Pristine Seas and the author of Nature of Nature, said:

“More sharks signal a healthier ocean. The complex web of life that coral reefs support would go completely haywire if reef sharks were to disappear. They are the bedrock of ecosystems, under threat from the climate crisis, overfishing and more.

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Fortunately, we have seen time and time again that when we fully protect coral reefs, they bounce back and eventually become more resilient to the impacts of global warming.

This study provides important evidence for countries considering which ocean areas to protect. It reinforces that carefully managing fishing outside protected areas is also important to ensuring that sharks and the wider ecosystem thrives.”

About Pristine Seas

Pristine Seas works with Indigenous and local communities, governments, and other partners to help protect vital places in the ocean using a unique combination of research, community engagement, policy work, and strategic communications and media. Since 2008, our program has conducted expeditions around the world and helped establish 27 marine reserves, spanning more than 6.6 million square kilometers of ocean.

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