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Man bites back: are sharks in hot water?

By Meaghen McCord, 17th November 2011

How can management policy balance competing objectives of conservation, fisheries and tourism by considering both negative impacts and new opportunities?

On November 23rd, as part of the Univeristy of Cape Town Marine Research Institute (Ma-Re) Benguela and Agulhas Systems for supporting
Interdisciplinary Climate-Change Science (BASICS) programme, I will be giving a presentation on the impacts of climate change on Zambezi (bull) sharks in southern Africa. This seems quite timely in the lead up to COP 17 – taking place in Durban from November 29th to December 9th – where the world’s leaders will meet to discuss impacts and mitigation of climate change on a global scale.

Although many people around the world remain skeptical about climate change (particularly the human role in speeding up climate change and climate events), it is a scientific fact that climate change happens. Where scientific facts are lacking, however, is in understanding how climate change affects species, people and places in the short-term. Perhaps you ask yourself where Zambezi sharks fit in? Well I find myself asking that very same question… how will climate change affect this near-threatened species, and how will the critical habitats (estuaries, lakes and river systems) on which these sharks rely be additionally impacted by ecosystem alterations?

As yet, there are few answers to these questions. But what I hope to highlight in my talk next Wednesday is the importance of improving understanding of linkages between species and spaces for long-term conservation and management purposes. With the impending Zambezi shark field season upon us – during which we will further examine the role of this species in shaping estuarine community structure and ecosystems – perhaps we can begin to unveil some of these mysteries in the southern African context. Stay tuned in the coming months for developments on this project.

For more information about impacts of climate change on the oceans top predators, visit Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics and check out the Climate Impacts on Oceanic Top Predators (CLIOTOP) project.

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