Healthy but isolated shark populations and other marine species in Australia’s Coral Sea are particularly vulnerable and could be wiped out by future fishing operations unless the area receives adequate protection, two new pieces of research released today have warned.
On World Biodiversity Day, and with governments meeting in Bonn to discuss the protection of vulnerable species and areas where they are abundant, WWF-Australia has reiterated its call to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, to declare the entire Coral Sea a Marine Protected Area.
The Coral Sea Biodiversity Review: Sharks and Fish, compiled by Queensland marine biologist Andy Dunstan for WWF-Australia, and early research findings on the Coral Sea’s shark populations by shark expert Richard Fitzpatrick reveal that marine species in the area are isolated and extremely vulnerable to over-fishing.
“The Coral Sea is one of the last marine wilderness areas left on the planet. It is one of the few places in the tropics where you can see healthy populations of whitetip and grey reef sharks, nautilus, maori wrasse and other unique fish species â€“ which have been decimated in similar habitats around the world,” said Dr Gilly Llewellyn, WWF’s Oceans Program Leader.
“For this reason alone, we are renewing our calls to the Federal Government to declare the entire Coral Sea a Marine Protected Area. Without protection, these species are highly vulnerable to human impacts which could easily and quickly wipe them out,” Dr Llewellyn said.
According to marine biologist and report author Andy Dunstan, the vulnerability of these populations is exacerbated by the fact that many Coral Sea shark, mollusc and fish species are real homebodies, living in close association with individual reefs, with minimal home range and little or no movement to surrounding reefs.
“The restricted movement of these animals makes their populations highly susceptible to human impacts. If a population of a species is overfished in a specific area and reduced below a critical level, regeneration of that species will not occur,” he said.
A recent satellite tagging and listening array research expedition to the Coral Sea, led by leading Australian marine biologist and shark researcher Richard Fitzpatrick, also revealed that the home range of endangered local whitetip, silvertip and grey reef sharks was restricted to between one and three kilometres around Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea.
Thirty-two listening array devices and three tagging stations were deployed in different areas of the Coral Sea, targeting 21 whitetip and 20 grey reef sharks.
“In its untouched state, the Coral Sea provides us with a research haven for producing baseline data for the marine world’s apex predators. Whitetip, silvertip and grey reef sharks are Kings of the Ocean in the Coral Sea, yet are remarkably endangered â€“ even listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
“Australia has a unique opportunity and global responsibility to ensure oceanic reefs and inhabiting marine life within its jurisdiction are given the protection they deserve.
“This may also give these unique and vulnerable species at least one last stronghold for viable populations.”
Full copy of Coral Sea Biodiversity Review: Sharks and Fish, PDF (500kb)