Unveiling the Depths: A Global Crusade for Shark Conservation

Amid the aquatic darkness of the Earth’s waters, a difficult and yet largely unseen mission unfolds. Scientists and conservationists are out in the field, working to protect one of the planet’s great predators: sharks. As I travelled to Colombia’s Pacific coast last year, I met people engaged in the backbreaking essential work of conserving the future of sharks. In Sanquianga National Natural Park, home to whales, dolphins, fur seals, sea lions, turtles and crocodiles, among many other species, a hammerhead shark became part of that mission. The Sphyrna corona, saved from the fin trade and free to swim the seas once more.

The Plight of the Predators

The Sphyrna corona (yellow hammerhead, named after the colour of its fins), which gave its name to the wider cape, is a symbol for the plight of sharks worldwide. Fishing for shark fins, spurred on by demand in Asia, and bycatch, coupled with the shark-meat trade, contribute to the deaths of millions of shark individuals each year. The figure for 2019 alone was at least 80 million sharks, including at least 25 million of endangered species.


During the past few decades, a host of legislative measures have been introduced to curb shark exploitation, including the Shark Finning Prohibition Act and the Shark Conservation Act in the United States, which deal specifically with shark fin integrity and seek to end shark finning atrocities, as well as efforts in other countries to list sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which assigns species to a status of threat and governs international trade with an aim to halt or reduce their decline.

Tracking and Protecting: The Role of Science in Shark Conservation

Conservation actions will hinge on scientists such as Cardeñosa and Demian Chapman, who track and trace species. They use innovative methods, such as acoustic markers and genetic sampling to map sharks’ habitats and identify individuals in world markets. This research helps to pinpoint which areas need protection and inform policies that will allow these ancient mariners to continue their existence.

The Struggle Against Extinction: A Race Against Time

Despite these efforts, sharks continue their slow march towards extinction. Adding important species to CITES Appendix II is a major accomplishment, but whether these measures will be effective has yet to be seen. We are witnessing the growth of a list of species protected by international rules, yet with enforcement never fully in place and the rules often bent.

Nurturing Hope: Community Involvement and Global Action

The story of sharks, then, can be a story of desolation or a story of hope. It can be a story of defeat, or a story of preservation. It all depends on community engagement and organisations that recognise the need for partnerships with those who live and work in these ecosystems, and to build stewardship where none might have existed before. Ultimately, it’s up to the world and its inhabitants to make a call for action that will ensure their continued prosperity, not their inherent extinction.

The Future of Sharks: Ensuring a Lasting Legacy

When we look ahead, the future of sharks is uncertain, but their survival seems more likely to rest with individuals like Bohorquez and the science behind his current research mission to save sharks – one country, even one ocean, at a time.

Understanding Status in the Realm of Shark Conservation

‘Status’ in this context refers to the combined threat that shark species face, the legal and regulatory protection applied, and the efficacy of that protection in stemming declines. It measures the numbers of individuals alive, where they live and to what risks, and what they will be exposed to over coming decades. If we are to set meaningful goals for shark conservation, we must first attain some measure of precision in figuring out what the status of sharks is.

Jun 16, 2024
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