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Sharks in the Whitsundays

The Whitsunday Islands support an array of plant and animal species, both in and out of the water. One of the most important animals are sharks, a vital player in the balancing game of the reef ecosystem. 

There are many variations of all species that add to the diverse and amazing ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, all of which play an important part in its lifecycle and continued health.

They are important to reef health

  • Sharks play an important part in this ecosystem and act as the largest apex predator in their environment. While terrifying to some, their role is vital to the health and well-being of this amazing part of the world. They balance ecosystems, keeping species below them in the food chain in check. They are often an indicator of marine health, as their presence is normal and healthy to marine environments. They help ensure species diversity by picking off weak and sick animals as well as keeping species numbers from getting too high. Most of all, their presence continues to ensure the health of the reef.

They affect the ecosystem

  • As they are apex predators and hunt other animals, they are indirectly controlling populations in seagrass beds and coral reefs, such as those found in the Whitsundays. This is because when hunting, they shift their prey's spacial habitat, forcing them to alter their feeding strategies, and possibly moving further around the reef in search of food. In short, this means that in hopes of not getting eaten, prey will swim away from sharks and graze for food elsewhere when they are around. This means resources also get spread out, as prey are unlikely to stick around eating from one source of food, which would deplete it. In their hunting, sharks take out larger species of fish, such as groupers, leaving more space for smaller species to flourish. In doing this, they balance the ecosystem. If they didn't do this, the larger and more dominant species could become overpopulated and take over the reef.

They affect fish populations and coral growth

  • If there was no population control of larger species of fish we would see a decline in herbivores - the fish that control algae growth on coral reefs. If this population declines, we could see an increase in the number of algae on the reefs, which could, in turn, cause a mass decline in coral growth as they compete for space. By giving smaller herbivores a chance to live, sharks are indirectly allowing the coral to grow and the reef to continue to expand and survive. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a large circle of life where sharks play a vital role.

They are extremely important to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef

  • Overall, a decline in shark populations will result in a loss of coral reefs and seagrass beds. Their vital role is overlooked when it comes to the importance of the health of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as fear and misunderstanding often take precedence over love and compassion for these extremely misunderstood creatures. Within the park, you can find many species of sharks from smaller, non-threatening species such as the whitetip or blacktip reef shark to larger species such as lemon sharks. There are also wobbegongs, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, grey whaler reef sharks, leopard sharks, bronze whalers, bull sharks and even the occasional whale shark

There is still so much to learn about these incredible animals, and it is our responsibility to ensure their survival in order to protect the delicate balance their presence maintains in our oceans. To learn more about how you can help the Great Barrier Reef and its inhabitants, click here.

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