Reef shark declines in remote atolls highlight the need for multi-faceted conservation action

1. The decline of large-bodied predatory species in the oceans is a concern both from a sustainability perspective and because such species can have important ecological roles. Sharks are particularly vulnerable to fishing as their life histories are characterized by late age at maturity, large body size, and low fecundity. 2. Substantial shark population declines have been documented for a number of coastal and pelagic systems, with high population abundance limited to a few remote locations. The relative abundance and composition of reef shark populations are assessed from 1975 to 2006 at a remote, largely uninhabited, group of atolls in the central Indian Ocean; the Chagos Archipelago. 3. Number of sharks observed per scientific dive declined from a mean of 4.2 in the 1970s to 0.4 in 2006, representing a decline of over 90%. Silvertip sharks displayed an increase in abundance from 1996, whereas blacktip and whitetip reef sharks were rarely encountered in 2006. 4. Poaching in the archipelago, is the most likely cause of these declines, highlighted by a number of illegal vessels containing large numbers of sharks arrested since 1996. The data highlight that shark populations, even in remote, otherwise pristine, marine areas, are vulnerable to distant fishing fleets, and a range of strategies will need to be used in concert for their conservation. Copyright ? 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Graham Nicholas , Spalding Mark , Sheppard Charles .
sharks, marine protected areas,fishery closures,wildlife trade,poaching,shark fin,elasmobranchs