Troubled waters for Australian sharks facing threat of extinction

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SYDNEY, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government has completed the first comprehensive assessment of sharks, rays and ghost sharks revealing that the nation's waters are home to more than a quarter of all the world's shark species, but 22 percent face some level of risk of extinction.

The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays was published on Tuesday by the National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub, a government organization that funds marine conservation research.

Lead author Dr. Peter Kyne said current rates of shark population decline puts many species on the brink of extinction and in dire need of conservation action.

"Around Australia, many of our threatened sharks and rays are not commercially important so these are largely 'out of sight, out of mind', but they require protection at national, state and territory levels," Kyne said.

The 442-page report included profiles for 328 sharks, rays and "ghost sharks", a fish closely related to sharks and rays, species that inhabit Australia's inland and coastal waters.

Of those species 39 were listed as "threatened", while a further 32 are listed as "near threatened".

Kyne said there were five species in Australia that were classified in the highest risk category, "critically endangered". Among the most endangered were the large tooth sawfish, Australian longnose skate and the Oceanic whitetip shark.

The Oceanic whitetip shark has seen a more than 98 percent decline in populations worldwide and catches in Australia are also low.

Kyne told Xinhua that the biggest risk to threatened species is unsafe fishing practices.

"Many of these species assessed as threatened are the incidental catch (bycatch) of commercial fisheries targeting other species of fish," said Kyne. "The sawfishes, for example, are bycatch of commercial gill net and trawl fisheries in northern Australia."

While Australia's overall risk profile is below that of global levels, Kyne said it was just as important to pay attention to, and advocate for species under threat, especially those that have traditionally been overlooked.

"The sharks and rays of Australia don't really get the attention and resources that they need. Some species are really well-known, like the whale sharks, other species we know absolutely nothing about."

Co-author on the report Dr. Michelle Heupel from the Australian Institute of Marine Science said the fact that 80 percent of Australia's shark species maintain a healthy population means Australia serves as a "lifeboat" for 45 species that are threatened in other parts of the world.

"In Australia, comprehensive fisheries management along with vast areas that are un-fished or lightly fished and the marine protected area network have helped secure the status of many species," Heupel said.

"This book is a call to action to secure all Australian sharks, rays and ghost sharks for the future." Enditem

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