As a sad addendum, in fact there are barely any reefs where even mesopredator release can take place, for these mesopredators are popular targets, too. Even on remote reefs, such large fish are prime targets for East Asian restaurants — taken alive so that diners chose them fresh from the aquarium, at sometimes phenomenal prices.
In reality, we barely have a natural reef left to study. We have a plethora of stories about how things can go wrong, and just a handful of hopeful places where we can catch a glimpse of how things once were.
Ecology is complex, and the solutions are too. Of course, strict protection of sharks and mesopredators might be part of the solution, and no-take reserves can be really valuable; but lots of this fishing is already illegal. Punitive measures on fishers might also have a place, but not on the desperately poor fishers for whom the cash incentive will still perhaps be worth the risk. There is a market driving phenomenal prices and illegal activities, and cracking that requires education of a broader public, buyers, sellers and politicians who can change trading regulations. We have the solutions and efforts are underway on multiple fronts — but not enough, not yet.
(Image: Blacktip shark at Palmyra Atoll. Image credit: Laura M. Beauregard – USFWS/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)
Mark Spalding is a marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. Read more of his blog posts here.