Featured News Most coral reef sharks and rays may be at risk of extinction

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Wed, 18 Jan 2023

Most coral reef sharks and rays may be at risk of extinction

Blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) on a coral reef in Fiji. This species is assessed as Vulnerable globally. Image: Colin Simpfendorfer.

Nearly two-thirds of coral reef shark and ray species worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to a James Cook University scientist.

JCU’s Professor Colin Simpfendorfer was part of an international team of researchers that evaluated the extinction risk of all 134 coral reef shark and ray species.

He said coral reefs are one of the most at-risk ecosystems from global climate change, with sharks and rays crucial for the functioning of coral reef ecosystems and covering a range of ecological niches - from filter feeders to apex predators.

“We found 59% of coral reef shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, making them the most threatened group in the world other than marine mammals,” said Professor Simpfendorfer.

He said the researchers found fishing was the main threat to these species, compounded by habitat loss and climate change.

“Risk is greatest for larger species that live in shallower water and are widely distributed across a number of national jurisdictions, so subject to a patchwork of management. Risk also increases for animals living in the waters of nations with greater fishing pressure and weaker governance,” said Professor Simpfendorfer.

He said the study showed the extinction risk for coral reef sharks and rays, as a percentage of threatened species, is almost double that of all 1199 known shark and ray species.

“What we need to see is immediate action through local protections, combined with broad-scale fisheries management and Marine Protected Areas. This is required to avoid extinctions and the loss of critical ecosystem function - condemning reefs to a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, limiting livelihoods and food security,” said Professor Simpfendorfer.

Images available here.


Professor Colin Simpfendorfer
E:  colin.simpfendorfer@jcu.edu.au