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Young shark habitats not protected in WA

AAP logoAAP 1/12/2016 Rebecca Gredley

Habitats important to the survival of young sharks off northwest Australia are not being adequately protected, which could influence reef health, scientists warn.

Researchers used underwater footage to predict the distribution of 21 shark species in the region, finding their most suitable habitats did not overlap well with marine protected areas where no extractive activities are allowed.

The University of Western Australia's Beverly Oh said that while marine reserves were not specifically designed to protect sharks, previous research has shown that protecting them is important for maintaining healthy reefs.

Where shark numbers are low, fish important in promoting reef health are also significantly lower in number.

The fish are important as they eat algae that overwhelm young coral on reefs recovering from natural disturbances.

Ms Oh said it was important to know the most suitable habitats for juvenile sharks because it provided priority areas for management.

"Large marine protected areas are an increasingly popular strategy for protecting the world's oceans, however the large-scale information needed to assess their effectiveness is lacking for many species," she said.

"Predicting species distribution patterns provides a solution to the issue of incomplete information for conservation planning at large scales."

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