For many of us, popular culture has had a heavy hand in shaping the way we think about sharks. Instead of seeing them as incredibly important to a healthy and balanced ecosystem, we’ve allowed them to be painted as villains whose modus operandi seems to be maliciously attacking humans — but sharks are much more than that.
Although shark attacks do happen (they’re apex predators, after all), we’re actually 132 times more likely to drown than be attacked by a shark. When photographer Mike Coots lost his leg to a tiger shark while surfing in Hawaii, he didn’t let that put a damper on his love for surfing — or sharks. Instead, after learning that at least 100 million sharks are killed annually, he became an advocate for one of our ocean’s most significant creatures in our oceans.
In an interview with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Coots said, “I still love sharks even after being attacked. The scariest part of snapping this great white shark photo? How cold the water was.”
Coots now speaks out against shark fin trade and uses the photos on his Instagram account to communicate how important sharks are to us all.
Because sharks are apex predators, it’s their job to help regulate the population of smaller marine animals. When shark populations go down, the prey populations increase — most of which eat vegetation.
When those populations increase, it leads to a decrease in the amount of vegetation, leading to a drop in oxygen levels, which in turn makes it difficult for other ocean dwellers in that ecosystem to survive.
Sharks also do more than just maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem. Marine vegetation helps sequester carbon dioxide, so as long as a healthy shark population is maintained to keep the animals that eat these plants in check, they can effectively help combat climate change! So really, if there’s anything we should be afraid of, it’s losing sharks.
Coots’ advocacy for sharks is an ongoing process. If you’re interested in seeing more, follow him on Instagram.
All image source: Mike Coots/Instagram