Reef sharks play a major role in shaping Caribbean reef communities. As the top predators of the reef and indicator species for marine ecosystems, they help maintain the delicate balance of marine life in reef environments. Reef sharks are highly valued for their meat, leather, liver oil, and fishmeal, which make them prone to overfishing and targeting. Yet, their importance for the tourism industry makes them more valuable alive than dead. In 2011, Honduras declared its waters to be a permanent sanctuary for sharks, making fishing for these species completely forbidden.
Reef sharks are targeted by commercial and artisanal fishers for their meat and fins, which garner a high price in international markets. However, populations simply cannot replenish at the same rate as they are caught and finned to meet market demand.
Reef sharks are often unintentionally caught by unregulated and illegal fishing practices that cannot distinguish the reef shark from the fishers’ targeted species. Every year, hundreds of reef sharks are injured or killed as bycatch.
Marine debris, including cans, plastic bags and bottles, often ends up in oceans and other waterways, endangering reef sharks through the risk of entanglement or ingestion of this toxic and indigestible garbage.
Reef sharks are threatened by the degradation and destruction of their coral reef habitat due to coastal development and resulting pollution.
Despite their reputation as ruthless predators, sharks are much more likely to be killed by humans than to attack humans. Sharks may be targeted because of their dangerous reputation, due to news stories of rare shark attacks at beaches or of divers. Such attacks are usually a result of the shark feeling threatened by human behavior.
WWF works to preserve the coral habitats where reef sharks live through the creation and improved management of marine protected areas, elaboration of fisheries management plans, and the introduction of fishing bans to protect vulnerable species including reef sharks. WWF also promoted the understanding that communities can derive more economic value from reef sharks through tourism than through their capture. We support local communities to set up appropriate ecotourism systems and infrastructure to ensure well-managed and sustainable shark tourism operations.