Habitat partitioning and vulnerability of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
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- Ceccarelli, D.M., Frisch, A.J., Graham, N.A.J. et al. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries (2014) 24: 169. doi:10.1007/s11160-013-9324-8
Sharks present a critical conservation challenge, but little is known about their spatial distribution and vulnerability, particularly in complex seascapes such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). We review (1) the distribution of shark species among the primary habitats of the GBRMP (coral reefs, inshore/shelf, pelagic and deep-water habitats) (2) the relative exploitation of each species by fisheries, and (3) how current catch rates interact with their vulnerability and trophic index. Excluding rays and chimaeras, we identify a total of 82 shark species in the GBRMP. We find that shark research in the GBRMP has yielded little quantitative information on most species. Reef sharks are largely site-fidelic, but can move large distances and some regularly use non-reef habitats. Inshore and shelf sharks use coastal habitats either exclusively or during specific times in their life cycle (e.g. as nurseries). Virtually nothing is known about the distribution and habitat use of the GBRMP’s pelagic and deep-water sharks. At least 46 species (53.5 %) are caught in one or more fisheries, but stock assessments are lacking for most. At least 17 of the sharks caught are considered highly vulnerable to exploitation. We argue that users of shark resources should be responsible for demonstrating that a fishery is sustainable before exploitation is allowed to commence or continue. This fundamental change in management principle will safeguard against stock collapses that have characterised many shark fisheries.