Although the most common of the large sharks found in the Caribbean, human activity has drastically reduced the population of it and threatens its survival.
Although the most common of the large sharks found in the Caribbean, human activity has drastically reduced the population of the Caribbean Reef Shark and threatens its survival as a species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies them as near threatened.
Fisheries pose the biggest threat to the Caribbean Reef Shark, which can measure up to 10 feet long and lives in shallow water in the western Atlantic Ocean. Fisheries have over exploited them, catching and selling them for their flesh, or for their use in making shark oil, fish fin soup, or leather goods. Over exploitation has an especially dangerous affect on sharks, as they have evolved a low reproduction rate due to a low threat from natural predators. When populations in different habitats decrease to dangerous levels, their low reproduction rate prevents these populations from being able to recover their lost numbers and survive. Fisheries have also over-fished the reef fish that make up the shark’s diet. The lack of available food seems to cause unnaturally fierce competition. Recently, sharks caught in the sea and studied in an aquarium have been observed attacking new born shark pups and even pregnant sharks, apparently to eliminate future food competitors from an already meager food supply.
The destruction of the Caribbean Reef Shark’s coral reef environment also poses an important threat to their survival. Factors that contribute to coral reef destruction in the Caribbean include: coastal development, dredging, sewage spills, pesticide runoffs, oil spills, and pollution from boats.
Sharks play an important role in the ecosystems of their natural habitats. As large predators, they consume smaller fish and cephalopods, which controls the size and quantity of their smaller neighbors and maintains the delicate ecological balance necessary to ensure harmonious co-habitation. Greatly reduced amounts of these Caribbean sharks can have a devastating effect on Caribbean wildlife.
The Caribbean Reef Shark is also the most popular with the controversial “shark feed” attractions, where sharks are attracted to diving eco-tourists by using bait, then they are fed the bait for the eco-tourists entertainment. Although banned off the coast of Florida, tourists shell out an incredible US$6,000,000 per year to watch the Caribbean Sharks chewing on bait at legal feed sights around the Caribbean Sea. Opponents of the shark shows point out that all these sharks feeding all the time in the presence of people could cause a dangerous association in the intimidating animal´s mind with hunger satisfaction and humans, resulting in possible additions to The International Shark Attack file. The file already records 27 Caribbean Reef shark attacks on people. Fortunately, none of the victims died from the attacks, of which people provoked all but four.
One look at these sea animals and their grace and beauty makes it clear as to why so many tourists are willing to spend so much money, not to mention to brave the threatening presence of the snub snouted, serrated toothed creatures, just watch them having lunch. Their beauty also reminds us of the importance of protecting them from the human activity that has caused their population to plummet.