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Media release: Dalhousie University research reveals conservation benefits are doubled for reef sharks and rays in fully protected marine areas that also have strong fisheries management

Posted by Communications and Marketing on May 21, 2024 in News

Tuesday, May 21, 2024 (Halifax) _ Conservation benefits for reef sharks and rays were found to be almost double in fully protected marine areas that also had effective fisheries management measures in place, according to new study by international researchers who analyzed data from an array of underwater video stations in roughly 40 countries.

The paper, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, highlights the importance of a mixed management approach that includes both protected areas and robust fisheries measures to conserve shark populations that are in decline around the world. Based on the world's largest reef shark and ray survey -- Global FinPrint, a project funded by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation -- the team used surveys of 66 fully protected areas embedded within a range of fisheries management regimes across 36 countries.

Dr. Aaron MacNeil, a Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Ecology and Professor in Biology at Dalhousie University, participated in the research which examined how marine protected areas (MPAs) and fisheries management interact to conserve these species and if they are effective.

"Understanding how to make the most effective management decisions that will benefit both sharks and the people that fish them is our goal," he said. "But it has taken a lot of work to figure out how to get there."

The team compared reef shark sightings inside fully protected areas in nations that had fisheries management measures known to benefit reef sharks and in nations where shark fishing was not effectively controlled.

Fully protected areas that benefited reef sharks were located all over the world, including the U.S., Australia, Belize, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Fiji.

"Previous studies have shown that fully protected areas -- that is, MPAs where all fishing is prohibited-- can benefit reef sharks. Our study adds a new element: nations can boost these benefits even further," said Dr. Jordan Goetze, the study's lead author and adjunct Research Fellow at Curtin University. "They can do so by applying restrictions on destructive fishing gear, such as longlines and gillnets or limiting shark catches outside the protected areas. These actions reduce shark mortality across the whole nation and supercharge the effect of fully protected areas."

Reef sharks are iconic species that likely play an important role in coral reef ecology and, in some areas, benefit people as living tourism attractions. In some cultures, they are celebrated as embodiments of gods, guardians and protectors, yet five species are estimated to have declined by 63 per cent on average.

"There is a worldwide push to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030," said Dr. MacNeil. "What these results show us is that fisheries management outside of protected areas is essential in making sure those restrictions are worth the effort."


Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University 
Cell: 1-902-220-0491 


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