Killing Sharks is Bad News for Climate Change

As shark encounters continue to make global headlines, experts from around the world will be meeting in Australia this week to discuss a range of options to repel them and prevent attacks. However, a new study suggests that taking action to keep them away could be really harmful when it comes to their presence as unsung heroes slowing climate change.

At the summit, which is being held in Sydney, 70 shark experts have gathered to discuss how technology can be used to reduce the potential for attacks and ward off sharks. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, options so far include strategies such as using shark nets and aerial patrols, which are already underway, in addition to using modern technology such as plastic and electronic barriers and sonar equipment that detects sharks and sends an alert … or possibly culling.

Western Australia already drew some heavy fire last year after launching a shark-culling program that indiscriminately targeted great white, tiger and bull sharks.

While officials and experts work on ways to keep the public safe, in a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists are warning that we shouldn’t be too quick to try and ward off sharks, or other predators, over concerns about how losing them will speed up climate change.

“Sharks and other apex marine predators continue to be harvested unsustainably throughout the world,” said Trisha Atwood, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Sciences and the USU Ecology Center. “We’re learning the loss of these animals could have far-reaching consequences on carbon cycling and, by implication, our ability to counter climate change impacts.”

Scientists know the loss of top predators can have far-ranging impacts on the ecosystem on land, and now they’re taking a closer look at what happens in marine environments. Losing predators like sharks isn’t just disrupting ecosystems, but is trickling down to the earth’s ability to store carbon.

According to the study, the effects can be found in kelp forests, coral reefs and the open ocean, but are most profound in vegetated coastal habitats, including seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes, known as “blue carbon ecosystems,” which are believed to store more than half the ocean’s carbon.

Predators are helping protect these ecosystems by keeping populations of herbivores and species that disturb soil in check, but as they disappear so do the plants that are helping and the consequences are big.

It’s not yet clear how much carbon is being released by these changes yet, but researchers point out that if just one percent of the global area of blue carbon ecosystems were affected by the loss of predators, it could result in around 460 million tons of CO2 being released every year the equivalent of emissions from about 97 million cars.

They hope their work here will lead to greater protections for species like sharks and regulatory action taken to preserve biodiversity.

“Intact predator populations are critical to maintaining and growing blue carbon stocks,” said Atwood. “Our study reveals the urgent need for further research, along with policies and management that conserve these animals. Marine predators may be the gatekeepers for the preservation of our planet’s current climate.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

33 comments

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla1 years ago

Every animal, every plant species has a role on this planet: humans don't.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

I hate it when some human says "we". Why would I be lumped in with the murderers, thieves and scum of the human race who are raping the oceans for their insane greed. Those dirtbags don't care about the future of the Earth, they are psychotics who simply want to kill anyone who tries to stop them.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago

noted

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Victoria P.
Victoria P2 years ago

Thank-you

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Ana Luisa Luque M.

Well, stop killing the predators. Stop killing the sharks. Humans never were and never are the ultra killers, they are, only, good with guns.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

Damn humans. It gets hard reading about all the death and destruction we cause.

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Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

Obviously killing ANYTHING is bad for the climate if it decimates the population. Unfortunately humans have reproduced to the point where we're destroying our own living resources. For all the brilliance we think we have, no other species is that stupid.

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Susie Reynolds
Susie Reynolds2 years ago

In other words...leave nature alone to do what nature has managed to do for millennia, and far more, without stupid humans interfering on the assumption that they know best and therefore have to take control. Most of the time human meddling is both counter-productive and destructive, and always has been. Leave all apex predators alone: in fact, leave all living things alone!

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Debbie Williamson
Solitary Eagle2 years ago

What we are doing to our world is inexcusable,

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