Offshore impact such as underwater noise and wind energy development has led to the decline of shark populations in many areas. In fact, elasmobranch abundance (sharks, rays, and similar animals) has declined globally by 71% in the past 50 years.
To the average person, this may not seem like an issue that requires an immediate response. However, that is far from the case. Sharks and rays are keystone species within the ocean environment. Without their presence, all species will suffer—including humans.
Shark week is the perfect time to bring attention to this issue. So, what makes them so special?
- They play an important role in balancing ecosystems. Their presence keeps populations in check. From the coral reef habitats and even zooplankton, sharks indirectly influence their numbers.
- Sharks and rays are natural carbon sinks. If they were to disappear, more carbon would release into our atmosphere. This is because the animals scavenge off the ocean floor which helps recycle carbon.
- They maintain biodiversity. Since sharks and their ray friends are keystone species, they stabilize their environments. They allow species to flourish and underwater animals to live in harmony.
Yet, these beautiful creatures face numerous obstacles. Overfishing and prey loss are factors that negatively affect their populations. Pollution is a major influence as well. Offshore energy development is one aspect of pollution that only continues to threaten sharks and rays. It causes an enormous amount of underwater vibration, which can hinder their abilities.
So, how can we help?
Shark Week is meant to not only highlight creatures, but also bring attention to the threats that they are faced with. This year, the Wild Animal Health Fund is supporting a research study to explore this issue. To get a better understanding of this serious situation, researchers will collect data and health information on sharks and rays affected by wind energy development.
Want to help out our ocean-dwelling creatures?