Simpfendorfer, C.A.

Sharks, rays and marine protected areas: A critical evaluation of current perspectives

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly advocated for the conservation and management of sharks and rays. However, substantial uncertainty remains regarding which species can benefit from MPAs. Meanwhile, area-focused protection targets have spurred recent and rapid gains in the creation of large MPAs, many of which carry vague objectives set by a diverse group of stakeholders with potentially differ- ent notions of “success.” Here, we capture and critically evaluate current views on the use of MPAs for shark and ray conservation. Through interviews with scientists, MPA managers, fisheries experts, conservation practitioners, advocates and policy experts (n = 53), we demonstrate a variety of perspectives regarding: (a) the effec- tiveness of MPAs as a tool for shark and ray conservation; (b) which factors influence the success of MPAs for sharks and rays; and (c) the desired outcomes of these MPAs. While MPAs created specifically for sharks and rays were viewed to be slightly more effective than regular MPAs as a tool for shark and ray conservation, both were generally considered insufficient in isolation. Despite greater emphasis on social success factors (e.g., local support) over biophysical success factors (e.g., size), biological outcomes (e.g., increased abundance) were prioritized over social outcomes (e.g., livelihood benefits). We argue that a stronger focus on achieving social outcomes can enhance the potential for MPAs to benefit sharks and rays. In revealing current thinking regarding the drivers and indicators of MPA success for sharks and rays, the results of this study can inform efforts to conserve and manage these species.


effectiveness, factors, marine protected areas, outcomes, shark and ray conservation, success

Data type
Other resources
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
St. Maarten

Bright spots of sustainable shark fishing

Sharks, rays and chimeras (class Chondrichthyes; herein 'sharks') today face possibly the largest crisis of their 420 million year history. Tens of millions of sharks are caught and traded internationally each year, many populations are overfished to the point where global catch peaked in 2003, and a quarter of species have an elevated risk of extinction [1-3]. To some, the solution is to simply stop taking them from our oceans, or prohibit carriage, sale or trade in shark fins [4]. Approaches such as bans and alternative livelihoods for fishers (e.g. ecotourism) may play some role in controlling fishing mortality but will not solve this crisis because sharks are mostly taken as incidental catch and play an important role in food security [5-7]. Here, we show that moving to sustainable fishing is a feasible solution. In fact, approximately 9% of the current global catch of sharks, from at least 33 species with a wide range of life histories, is biologically sustainable, although not necessarily sufficiently managed.

Data type
Scientific article