Sharks could help coral reefs recover, new research has revealed. A long-term study off Australia’s northwest coast found that when shark numbers are decreased due to fishing, the food chain is disturbed and there’s a decline in fish species crucial to promoting reef health, such as parrotfish.
The study comes at an opportune time in the life of coral reefs, which are facing a number of pressures both from direct human-activity, such as over-fishing, and from climate change, as explained by lead author, Dr Jonathan Ruppert, of the University of Toronto.
According to Dr Ruppert: “The reefs we studied are about 300 kilometres off the coast of northwest Australia and the only human impacts are Indonesian fishers who primarily target sharks, a practice stretching back several centuries, which continues under an Australian-Indonesian memorandum of understanding. These reefs provided us with a unique opportunity to isolate the impact of over-fishing of sharks on reef resilience, and assess that impact in the broader context of climate change pressures threatening coral reefs.”