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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reef Sharks: A Historical Ecology and Media Project


Today’s coral reef ecosystems face the effects of overfishing, pollution, disease, and climate change. Overfishing is of particular importance for large predators. The life history of most sharks is characterized by low productivity which makes them especially vulnerable to bycatch and to fisheries that target their meat and fins. The removal of these predators affects their own trophic level as well as the structure and functioning of the whole ecosystem. Accepting the present state of shark populations and coral reef ecosystems as pristine is an example of the shifting baseline syndrome. To overcome this syndrome we must redefine what makes a coral reef and its shark populations pristine. Only then we will be able to set the appropriate restoration goals as well as to measure the success of the management actions that we take. A method to reconstruct the history of natural ecosystems is incorporating unconventional sources of data like historical documents into scientific analysis. This will be the approach of the first part of the present project on the assessment of the benchmark of shark populations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). The second part of this project involved the production of a series of short films on essential concepts on the conservation of coral reefs and reef sharks. Four scientists were interviewed with the objective of making four films to inform on current research and inspire the audience to care for the protection of these animals and the reef ecosystems.

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