Sharks’ role in coral reef health

The overfishing of reef sharks such as these is endangering the coral reefs that depend on them. Photo Willy Volk/Flickr

The overfishing of reef sharks such as these is endangering the coral reefs that depend on them. Photo Willy Volk/Flickr

A team from the University of Western Australia has completed a four-month research expedition looking for signs of healthy coral reefs in the remote Kimberley. They observed an unexpectedly high number of sharks in the region, suggesting sharks play a key role in regulating the health of coral reefs.

The study also aimed to assess how marine reserves contributed to the protection of healthy shark populations and reefs.

Based onboard the motor yacht Pangaea, the researchers from the School of Biological Sciences and the UWA Oceans Institute used baited cameras to create video-based observations of reef sharks and fish to assess their abundance and behaviour.

They also used catch-and- release fly-fishing methods to sample fish, measuring their condition and taking tissue samples to determine their diet. The team was excited by the discovery of a potential oceanic shark nursery off the Kimberley coast, where high numbers of individuals under 50cm were observed and sampled.

The team will now process the samples to understand how the presence of sharks contributes to the health of coral reefs. They also intend to assess how marine reserves contribute to the protection of healthy shark populations and reefs.

Program leader Professor Jessica Meeuwig said at a time when coral reefs were under significant pressure from overfishing and bleaching, determining how sharks contribute to reef resilience was critical.

Expedition leader Dr Shanta Barley said the patchwork of protected and unprotected zones that comprised the Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems in Australia offered a unique natural experiment to answer questions around the role of these important and declining animals. ‘The expedition builds on previous work with Pangaea in the British Indian Ocean Territory and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

‘By using the same methods across these regions we can understand Australia’s reefs in the broader context of the Indian and western Pacific oceans.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Become a supporter of The Echo

A note from the editorial team

Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

The Echo has never underestimated the intelligence and passion of its readers. In a world of corporate banality and predictability, The Echo has worked hard for more than 30 years to help keep Byron and the north coast unique with quality local journalism and creative ideas. We think this area needs more voices, reasoned analysis and ideas than just those provided by News Corp, lifestyle mags, Facebook groups and corporate newsletters.

The Echo is one hundred per cent locally owned and one hundred per cent independent. As you have probably gathered from what is happening in the media industry, it is not cheap to produce a weekly newspaper and a daily online news service of any quality.

We have always relied entirely on advertising to fund our operations, but often loyal readers who value our local, independent journalism have asked how they could help ensure our survival.

Any support you can provide to The Echo will make an enormous difference. You can make a one-off contribution or a monthly one. With your help, we can continue to support a better informed local community and a healthier democracy for another 30 years.”

Echonetdaily is made possible by the support of all of our advertisers and is brought to you by this week's sponsors Vast Furniture & Homewares Ballina and Falls Festival Byron Bay.