Sharks are essential for maintaining the Good Health of Coral Reefs, according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

During the past four months, a team of researchers from UWA has been busy traveling the ocean from Cairns to Broome in Australia in a motor yacht to investigate the relationship between sharks and coral reefs’ health. Researchers say they observed that corals are in good shape at points where sharks are high in numbers.

Sharks are among the most threatened creatures on Earth

Sharks are a group of elasmobranch fish that have diversified into over 500 species.

These marine creatures range in size from just 17 cm (the small dwarf lantern shark) to 12 meters (whale shark). Sharks are commonly found at depths of 2,000 meters and are found in all seas around the world.

Some of the popular species of sharks include the tiger shark, the hammerhead shark, great white shark, thresher shark, mako shark and blue shark. Today, sharks are among the most vulnerable creatures on Earth. In some cases, their numbers have dwindled to just 2-4 percent of what they were about fifty years ago.

According to program leader Professor Jessica Meeuwig, the significance of sharks for reef ecosystem was already known to researchers.

Sharks have knock-on effects throughout the entire reef ecosystem. These creatures help in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem by eating mid-level predators like grouper, thus allowing small fish to thrive in reefs. The small reef fish are the custodians of the reef as they restrict overgrowth of algae to ensure that the coral is not suffocated.

Researchers found a potential nursery of sharks near Kimberley

During their trip, the research team discovered a potential nursery of sharks in waters off the northern Kimberley coast. According to Meeuwig, most of the sharks in this nursery were less than 50 cm long. The team also found that the reef health in the west was better than in the east, which could be because the human population in western areas is still low compared to eastern areas.

The motor yacht on which the research team explored the oceans was donated by American “ocean philanthropist” Todd Robinson who is committed to ocean health. Mr. Robinson has also given $22 million for the project. Meeuwig thinks the philanthropic involvement of such individuals is essential because getting funds from the government for ocean research is not an easy task.

Researchers are now planning for more such expeditions to investigate the significance of sharks for coral reefs further.