For as long as most can remember, sharks have been a subject of fear, malevolence and subsequently, awe. From their portrayal in popular culture in movies such as Jaws and The Reef to real-life examples of the threat they pose to humans in beach and open waters. They are the implacable apex predators of the ocean and - for good reason - are fiercely protective and territorial of their habitat. These animals play an unbelievably crucial role in marine health and development; yet despite their sacred and critical function in marine biodiversity, there are still over 70 species presently on the IUCN Red List as threatened or near threatened. Fifteen of those are listed as endangered and 10, critically endangered, dismally close to extinction. It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed each year with some populations having decreased by 90 percent over the past 30 years.
The spotlight of this piece is the Reef Shark, four of which - the Blacktip, Whitetip, Grey and Caribbean - appear on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened with populations still on the decline. This has a devastating impact on the already fragile state of Caribbean reef communities. The reef shark, as this ecosystem’s top predator and indicator species, is key in maintaining its healthy and functional food webs. This fundamental function is what keeps the delicate balance of predator to herbivorous fish to healthy and vibrant coral reefs, in order.