There’s a certain wisdom that comes with being over 450 million years old. A wisdom that predates trees and dinosaurs and whose mere existence has survived five mass extinction events over the course of planet Earth’s history. As an apex predator, sharks are considered to be one of the keystone species responsible for keeping the intricate ocean ecosystem in check. With over 500 species of sharks swimming in the oceans, it is their unique guardianship that helps promote the success and progress of all other living species that inhabit this Blue planet by protecting the delicate ecological balance of a healthy ocean.
To understand how an ancient species continues to serve as a profound influence over our planet’s climate health.
The Earth’s surface is composed of 71% water which affects the planet’s atmosphere and its ability to support a balanced oceanic environment. The oceans are rapidly heating up due to excessive amounts of carbon accumulating within our atmosphere. This carbon is also accumulating within our oceans, depleting delicate ecosystems and marine life populations.
The Carbon Balance
Sharks have a unique ability to not only process carbon within their bodies, but also regulate carbon within the ocean. A shark’s predatory behavior of scavenging the sea floor for dead matter or hunting in seagrass meadows and coral reefs for prey keeps fish populations healthy and ecosystem habitats in balance by distributing carbon throughout the ocean. As a top predator, sharks are consistently maintaining healthy ecosystems consisting of ocean plants and marine life.
Sharks are majestic and amazing creatures who have been doing their part to help keep our Blue planet in balance for millions of years. Yet, within the last decade, shark populations have been overfished on a global scale, reducing their numbers by 150 million per year. This abrupt imbalance to the oceanic environment is starting to show its effects. Coral reefs are dying due to excessive amounts of carbon promoting out of control algae blooms which negatively affect the fish species who inhabit them. With shark numbers decreasing at the rate of 150 million a year, some shark species have seen 90% of their population extinguished and on the verge of extinction.
Environmental scientists are sounding the alarm because the window to reverse the environmental damage that has already occured due to the excessive amount of carbon in the environment is closing.The effects of climate change can already be seen in the planet’s extreme weather patterns, the melting of the ice caps, the rising temperatures and levels of our oceans, and the destruction of environmental habitats.
Countries around the world have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by focusing on ways to reduce carbon emissions. This focus includes protecting sharks and their vital habitats through conservation efforts by establishing shark sanctuaries. In an effort to educate cultures centered around the fishing industry influenced by generations of local fishermen, shark conservationists strive to influence these global markets by establishing shark sanctuaries where marine ecotourism can provide a larger financial benefit over traditional forms of fishing.
“In 2021, the U.S. Congress reintroduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 2811/S. 1106), which would largely ban the trade of shark fins in the United States. Although shark finning is illegal in our waters, fins can still be bought and sold in the United States. A national prohibition would improve enforcement of the current finning ban, reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation, and bring the world closer to ending the devastating trade in shark fins.”
Sharks have been the guardians of this unique planet since before human existence. Their endless dedication to keeping a healthy oceanic ecosystem has helped create an environment where we as humans have thrived and prospered. Now, it is our turn to dedicate ourselves to protecting this oceanic ecosystem and help support sharks so they may continue what they have mastered over hundreds of millions of years. It will take all of us, sharks and humans alike, to preserve the necessary oceanic ecological balance required to escape extinction.