Shark conservation hindered by lack of habitat protection
Many of the world's shark populations are in decline, indicating the need for improved conservation and management. Well managed and appropriately located marine parks and marine protected areas (MPAs) have potential to enhance shark conservation by restricting fisheries and protecting suitable habitat for threatened shark populations. Here, we used shark occurrence records collected by commercial fisheries to determine suitable habitat for pelagic sharks within the Australian continental Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and to quantify the amount of suitable habitat contained within existing MPAs. We developed generalised linear models using proportional occurrences of pelagic sharks for three families: Alopiidae (thresher), Carcharhinidae (requiem), and Lamnidae (mackerel) sharks. We also considered aggregated species from the Lamnidae and Carcharhinidae families (‘combined sharks’ in the models). Using a set of environmental predictors known to affect shark occurrence, including chlorophyll-a concentration, salinity, sea surface temperature, and turbidity, as well as geomorphological, geophysical, and sedimentary parameters, we found that models including sea surface temperature and turbidity were ranked highest in their ability to predict shark distributions. We used these results to predict geographic regions where habitat was most suitable for pelagic sharks within the Australian EEZ, and our results revealed that suitable habitat was limited in no-take zones within MPAs. For all shark groupings, suitable habitats were found mostly at locations exposed to fishing pressure, potentially increasing the vulnerability of the pelagic shark species considered. Our predictive models provide a foundation for future spatial planning and shark management, suggesting that strong fisheries management in addition to MPAs is necessary for pelagic shark conservation.