Sharks and Coral Reefs

As a result of lack of knowledge, I have decided that every month I will
present an illustration and blog post dedicated to frequently asked
questions. Not only by my scuba diving students but non-divers and local
Bahamians. I found that over the course of my Scuba Instructing career
Bahamians are left out of the loop when it comes to current and updated
knowledge as to their resources and what they can do to help protect
their oceans. The Bahamas is really considered the shark capital.
Tourist and media companies are among the few that travel here from far
and wide to interact and film sharks as well as our beautiful
ecosystems. Shark Tourism is said to make over 1.7 million yearly in the
Bahamas and yet we don’t understand the true importance of why they are
so vital to our ecosystems and coral reefs. We scorn them and gather
hate for such a mysterious creature when all they are doing is trying
their best to adapt and survive in such an ever-changing and
misunderstood world.

A healthy coral reef has an abundance of small sharks that help keep the ecosystem in balance. They help to remove the weak and the sick as well as keeping the balance with competitors ensuring species diversity. Coral reefs are made up of tiny invertebrate animals, colonies of polyps and thousands of species of fish. They provide protection for our coastlines, stop erosion, create medicines, and food for nearby communities. They have been impacted by human activities such as heat pollution from power plant factories, human debris, oil spills, reckless tourism, and subsistence and commercial extractions.

Sharks have roamed our oceans for 450 million years before the time of dinosaurs, but today, they are in trouble and so are coral reefs. Sharks and coral reefs have evolved and adapted to conditions in a changing world. The rising temperatures due to climate change is one of the serious stresses to coral reefs. Shark populations are diminishing around the world due to the high demand and harvest for shark fin products.

New technologies have allowed the fishing industry to remove sharks and fish in substantial amounts. Resulting in the primary cause of ecosystem collapse and detrimental loses in marine species.

In 2011, The Bahamas government along with PEW, The Bahamas National Trust and BREEF, took action to protect sharks. They created the Bahamas Acts to protect Sharks. Approximately 630,000 square kilometres (243,244 square miles) of the country’s waters is prohibited from commercial fishing or these predators.

Protection of sharks should be included in coral reef conservation
efforts. Creating and implementing strict fishing laws can help predator
population recovery. In many countries, sharks are not protected and
there is little to no conservation efforts to rebuild surrounding coral
reefs. Which means, when a shark travels outside of shark protected
waters it is at high risk of being caught. Here in the Bahamas, I have
watched shark populations thrive and grow for years. Sharks grow very
slowly and reproduction in some species can take up to two years!
Protection acts and sanctuaries do have a huge impact on species
population. Research shows 63 million to 273 million sharks are killed
in commercial fisheries a year. Listed below are PEW Charitable Trusts
17 Shark Sanctuaries to date, 2018.

Pew Charitable Trusts. 17 sanctuaries around the world

The trade of stony coral organisms for commercial extraction has increased. Such corals as Acropora corals are fast growing reef builders that secrete a calcareous skeleton. These corals provide habitats for reef fish and invertebrates and increase biodiversity. They are used for building materials on construction sites, jewellery, home decor, and aquarium organisms.

This increase of trade destroys habitats, reduces biodiversity,
destruction of coastline protection and barren ecosystems. The decline
of reef-building corals in the Caribbean has been detrimental. What once
was a home to Elkhorn Forests and Staghorn Thickets has now become
desolate with nothing but live rock containing algae and smaller fish.
There has also been a decline in Diadema better known as Sea urchins
which increases the number of algae grown on coral reefs and leaves this
role to algae eating fish such as the parrot fish. Such impacts to
coral reefs from the 1980’s have increased the spread of algal
dominance, coral diseases, and nutrient inputs.

Indeed they are alive! They are made up of both living animals,
bacteria, fungi (algae) and calcareous skeletons. In the last 30 years,
the world has lost half of its coral reefs. According to Ruth Gates, Director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology,
“to lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very
large proportion of the human race.” Let’s protect our coral reefs:

  • We should learn to recognize the live and dead coral on the reef when snorkelling or diving.
  • Only use sunscreen that doesn’t kill our reefs ( Reef Safe by Tropical Seas - My favourite).
  • Don’t touch or kick the coral, be mindful of where your fin tips are at all times.
  • Don’t anchor your boat on a coral reef. Use a mooring line or anchor at a sandy bottom.
  • Leave only bubbles and take only pictures when in the ocean.
  • Don’t purchase coral souvenirs.
  • Help to Educate others about coral reefs. Many people don’t
    understand the importance of coral reefs. You can make a difference by
    spreading the word.

Coral Restoration

Restoring dying reefs through large-scale coral restoration is a
suitable method to restoring deteriorating coral reefs. These
ocean-based nurseries are built from suspended fragmented trees and are
maintained by divers who then out plant grown fragments onto the nearby

This is a small part of rehabilitating coral reefs but does help to
restore our oceans vital ecosystem. Sharks and coral reefs must get the
protection they most desperately need. You can help to protect coral
reefs ecosystems and sharks by joining forces with various groups and
organizations. As a Reef Rescue Network Instructor, I am dedicated to
creating coral nurseries, maintaining them as well as providing
knowledge and the proper procedures for maintaining and protecting coral
reefs and our ocean. If you would like to be a Reef Rescue Diver and
Volunteer please email Hayley-Jo Carr

Acropora Coral - Staghorn

Reef Rescue Network Diver

Suspended Coral Nursery Tree

Here is a list of my favourite organizations:

Perry Institute of Science

The Bimini Shark Lab

The Bahamas National Trust




Coral Restoration Foundation

The Nature Conservancy

Sea Shepherd 

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