Member Highlight: Large Marine Protected Areas Effectively Protect Reef Shark Populations

2018-01-02T13:57:52+00:00 February 3, 2017|
New study shows that Marine Protected areas are successful in protecting grey reef sharks. (Credit Yzx / Wikimedia Commons)

(Click to Enlarge) New study shows that Marine Protected areas are successful in protecting grey reef sharks. (Credit Yzx / Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station investigated the role of expanded marine protected areas (MPAs) on grey reef sharks and found that the aquatic no-fishing zones were an effective tool for protecting this near-threatened species.

 (From PhysOrg)– Originating 423 million years ago, sharks are a group of predators that span 490 species and still play crucial roles within their ecosystems. We often characterize these top predators as nearly indestructible monsters but, of course, that’s far from the reality: They mature slowly, they don’t have high numbers of offspring, and they’re under serious threat due to the value of their fins.

For their study, the team tracked both sharks and fishing vessels in the U.S. Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a large MPA about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) south of Hawaii. Their findings, published in the Jan. 31 issue of Biological Conservation, provide valuable evidence that these areas are worth creating and maintaining.

“These techniques showed for the first time that large MPAs are effective tools for protecting declining shark populations and other mobile marine predators that are not adequately protected by smaller, coastal MPAs,” said Fiorenza Micheli, professor of marine science at Hopkins Marine Station and co-author of the paper.

Not only did they find little evidence of fishing within the refuge, they saw that there was a surprisingly high density of ships just outside its boundaries, suggesting that even remote locations are primed for significant fishing if protection were to disappear.

Marine protected areas have been around for decades but they’ve mostly been near the coasts and rather small, with 1 square mile being a typical size. Recently, much larger MPAs have been established in waters far from large human populations. In 2016 alone, the title of “largest MPA” changed hands twice. In August, the U.S. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii was the largest ever established but soon that title went to the Ross Sea Protected Area in Antarctica, collaboratively designated by 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Union.

“Some of these protected areas are twice the size of Texas and they’ve been very recently established, so they hold great conservation potential,” said Tim White, a graduate student at Hopkins Marine Station and lead author of the study. “But we’re not sure of the effects that these will have on a range of species.”

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