“Sharks are the guardians of coral reefs.”
Have you ever seen those before-and-after pictures, where once epic coral structures providing a colorful background for the dreamiest underwater scenery have now turned into bleak, white, and barren grounds with little to no fish left? That is when happens when coral reefs are damaged. Coral reef ecosystems can actually be pretty resilient, but how much depends on the health and strength of the reef. Having a good natural balance and high diversity of species living on the reef makes it more resilient to environmental change and human influences. And as large predators, who regulate the abundance of other marine animals from the top down, sharks have a vital role to play in this.
The tropical Caribbean islands, which have a high abundance of coral reef habitats, are home to several reef-associated shark species, such as the Caribbean reef shark, nurse shark, lemon shark, and blacktip shark. You will usually find these species close to corals looking for fish and shellfish to eat. By doing so, sharks control the abundance of other species and contribute to the natural balance of the coral reef ecosystem.
Protecting sharks is about more than keeping single species from disappearing. It is about preserving the state of natural environments and trying to keep our oceans the wonderfully beautiful and vibrant places they can be.
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By Linda Planthof