SLIDESHOW: Protecting Sharks in Cuban Waters
Sharks have ruled the oceans for at least 400 million years. It's an extraordinary run of evolutionary survival. But now, sharks face an overwhelming threat from a single species—humans—as overfishing threatens ocean ecosystems.
This Shark Week, learn about some of the work EDF is doing to break down international barriers, and protect this misunderstood marvel of marine evolution.
Divers from around the world are drawn to Jardines de la Reina—Gardens of the Queen National Park—to stare in amazement at the abundance of sharks. Silky, Caribbean reef, blacktips, lemons and nurse sharks—plus the diving "holy grail", whale sharks—can all be found within this glorious reef.
As top predators, these sharks play a critical role in preserving the Gardens of the Queen, and the rest of Cuba's extensive coral reefs. Eliminating sharks may induce what scientists call "ecological cascades"—a slippery slope of dangerous effects through the marine ecosystem. For example, when shark populations declined in another part of the world, the result was an abundance of certain rays—key shark prey. Too many bottom feeding rays threaten seagrass beds and the shellfish that inhabit them, as well as the many other species using seagrass beds as nurseries. It could seriously degrade marine ecosystems.
Over the past 50 years, many shark populations have declined dramatically because of overfishing—but scientists and regulators in Cuba recognize that sharks play a critical role. Since 2010, EDF has been working to advance shark conservation in Cuba by undertaking biological and socioeconomic research on shark populations, and working with the Cuban government to train fishers and boat captains in shark data collection and monitoring.
With the support of EDF, Cuba is developing a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Sharks. Completing the NPOA is a pivotal step for shark conservation in Cuba and will provide a clear policy mandate for future regulatory and management actions taken to protect sharks. Across the Gulf of Mexico region, our long term aim is that improved international cooperation, science and management will lead to the recovery and long term health of shark populations. Success here could provide a roadmap for advancing sustainable management of sharks and other highly migratory species around the globe.
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