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 ECO

Shark Awareness Day Celebrating the importance of our sharks

2nd August, 2018

By JASON JACK EBIT

KOTA KINABALU: Shark Awareness Day 2018 which is celebrated every July highlights shark’s important role in keeping the sea population and oceans healthy and productive.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) researchers are actively conducting researches in efforts to conserve sharks through the Endangered Marine Species Research Unit.

This includes organising shark awareness programmes at outreach elementary school children in coastal rural regions of Sabah.

A biodiversity monitoring research programme spanning 20 years, conducted by UMS researchers, found that at present, the sharks of Sabah’s waters are dominated by bamboo sharks and coral catsharks.

According to Dr. Mabel Manjaji Matsumoto, leader of the research project funded by Save Ours Seas Foundation, these demersal or bottom-dwelling sharks appear to have replaced the larger predatory coastal inshore species. Such a shift in species dominance, especially from a larger to smaller species is what is termed by fisheries scientists as a process of “fishing down the food web”.

The process describes large predatory species as having been depleted due to fishing pressure, where the fisheries are increasingly turning to the smaller and previously rejected species.

He stressed that large predators such as sharks have an essential role in keeping the marine ecosystem healthy and productive.

Sharks tend to hunt only old, injured, sick fish, streamlining many populations of sea creatures to keep them to a size where they will not grow too big which could damage the sea ecosystem, thus keeping diseases at bay.

“Removal and changes in the number of apex species will affect the marine food web,” he added.

Besides that, sharks are also necessary for the health of coral reefs. Areas with healthy shark populations also saw areas of reefs where small reef fish thrive.

Unfortunately, there are too few people that understand the importance of shark. They were also killed for shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy in parts of Asia. To make matters worse, sharks only produce a few amounts of offspring and take a long time to be fully mature.

On the early month of July, social media was abuzz with the sad news of a dead whale shark reported accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net. The site of the incident was a coastal village in Mukah, in neighboring Sarawak.

The Whale Shark is one of nature’s gentlest giants. It can grow to over 40 feet long and weigh 47,000 pounds, but is slow-moving and eats mostly tiny plankton by filtering them from the water through its teeth as it swims. If left alone, they can wander the waves for up to 70 years.

Unlike other large predatory sharks, the Whale Shark is a rather gentle but generally misunderstood large vertebrate.

Described by marine ecologists as charismatic, the reason this unique ocean wildlife swims to near the sea surface is simply to feed.

Borneo indeed has a high biodiversity of sharks and rays, with over 100 species scientifically recorded from its waters, including fresh and brackish water habitats.

   
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