Here in Los Angeles, and even further away, we’ve had sharks on the brain recently. From the July 5 Manhattan Beach pier shark bite incident, to numerous August juvenile shark sightings—the most dramatic of which prompted temporary San Clemente beach closures—we can’t seem to get these apex predators off our minds. Add to that Discovery Channel’s recent airing of its 27th annual Shark Week, and the impending 40th anniversary of the movie Jaws, and you have a recipe for shark obsession.
Unfortunately, the overall-arching theme of this recent shark fixation is fear. Sharks are often depicted as gigantic, mindless eating machines lurking beneath the waters waiting for their next unsuspecting swimmer snack. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. According to Oceana: “Over the past five years (2006-2010), an average of 4.2 fatal shark attacks have taken place each year world-wide.”
Compare that to the number of sharks killed by humans. New statistics from the most comprehensive study on illegal shark killing ever completed estimate that 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world. This number far exceeds what many shark populations need to recover. Ironically, the sharks should be afraid of us, not the other way around.
With 350 known species that range in size and shape from the great whale shark (40 feet long) to the dwarf shark (6 inches long), sharks are ancient creatures, and have been around longer than any other animal, probably as many as 400 million years. Sharks are beautiful, fascinating creatures for scuba divers to observe underwater. So to quote Bruce-the-shark from the movie Finding Nemo: “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Sharks are friends. Let’s protect them, not fear them. by Tim Yeo
California’s coastline used to be home to some of the richest waters in the world, but since the 1960’s we have lost over 90% of our big game and over 75% of our kelp forests.
Because the decimation of any one species can cause irreparable harm to the entire ecosystem, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designed to protect all plants and animals in the entire ecosystem in the park.
Depending on the type of MPA, some taking of game is still allowed, for example in State Marine Parks, sport fishing is allowed, but not commercial fishing. In State Marine Reserves, any type of fishing is illegal and violators are subject to severe penalties.
In 1997 a group of scientists embarked on a two year project to see if fishes were responding well to the creation of MPAs. They surveyed three no-take zones on Catalina Island and two off the mainland coast, and found that not only were the fishes more abundant in the reserve, but the largest size individuals were also found within the confines of the no-take zones. Their findings suggest that the protected areas are providing a safe haven for fish to reach maturity, translating into higher reproductive output.
In 2012, another study was conducted in the Channel Islands, where MPAs have been in place for over a decade. The results showed that lobsters were more abundant and larger in protected areas, with over five more legal-sized lobsters caught per trap on average inside the refuges. Both recreational and commercial fishing in parts of the islands actually increased from 2003 to 2008.
As the MPA program matures, more data becomes available to prove that conservation has a positive impact on the ecosystem. As scuba divers, let’s respect the MPAs and enjoy all the kelp, fishes and big game that are returning to our waters.