World Oceans Day 2021

A Plan to Save the World’s Sharks and Rays

By Luke Warwick | June 8, 2021

Shortfin Mako shark. Photo credit: ©Andy Murch

he ocean’s top predators are in decline. We now know that sharks and their flattened relatives, rays, are one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates on the planet. A third of the one thousand-plus species are already at imminent threat of extinction, and some, such as open ocean shark populations, have plummeted 70 percent in the last 50 years.

The major threats are overfishing, with sharks and rays still poorly managed or un-managed throughout much of the world despite high levels of catch, and international trade in their products, such as fins and meat.

“If we don’t act now, we will lose the remaining populations of these slow-growing predators forever.”

If we don’t act now, we will lose the remaining populations of these slow-growing predators forever. This could fundamentally change ocean ecosystems and impact the people that rely on them around the world. Sharks, like top predators on land, help keep marine ecosystems such as coral reefs healthy. They also drive ecotourism and provide a key source of food to many communities around the world. We can ill afford to allow them to be driven to extinction.

Manta ray. Photo credit: Hollie Booth/WCS

It isn’t too late. Sharks and rays are flagship species for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s global conservation work, and we have a new plan to safeguard strongholds of these iconic species over the next decade.

This World Oceans Day, we are launching the 10 by 10 initiative: This new shark conservation plan seeks to deliver comprehensive, science-based, well-implemented shark management reforms in 10 key geographies across the globe over the next 10 years (10 x 10, from 2020 to 2030).

We have identified priority regions and countries within them over the last year and a half, and already have shark and ray conservation projects in place in these locations. We are now collecting crucial scientific data and building relationships with governments and local communities that will ensure the 10 x 10 initiative is successful.

“We have identified priority regions and countries within them over the last year and a half, and already have shark and ray conservation projects in place in these locations.”

Here are the key focal regions for WCS’s shark conservation efforts over the next decade:

We will focus on seven families of these endangered predators. That includes those that are most threatened with extinction, but also those caught and traded in the highest quantities. If we don’t act now, these are the species that will be lost forever in the coming decades:

In each location where we work — from Argentina to Gabon, to Bangladesh and Indonesia — we will focus on key reforms to the management of these sharks and rays in three areas: 1) protecting species; 2) managing fisheries; and 3) controlling trade. These are the three elements that have been lacking in most countries for these species. If put these reforms in place now they can prevent extinctions and offer sharks, rays, and the people that rely on them, a future.

“This is just the start of a significant increase in the ambition and scale of WCS’s efforts to prevent the precipitous decline towards extinction for these iconic ocean predators.”

This work is already underway in more than 10 countries where WCS works around the world. In some locations, we have already made significant progress towards the aims of the strategy. A great example is our work in Gabon, which is located in the key West African marine stronghold of the Gulf of Guinea.

This is just the start of a significant increase in the ambition and scale of WCS’s efforts to prevent the precipitous decline towards extinction for these iconic ocean predators. Over the next 10 years we will use this initiative to safeguard the populations that remain and start them on their long road to recovery.

Luke Warwick is Director of Shark and Ray Conservation for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest