A new study, featuring more than 150 researchers worldwide, including Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists who collected data at WCS programs in Mesoamerica, South East Asia, Melanesia and East Africa, says overfishing is driving reef sharks toward extinction.

Publishing their results this week in Science, scientists of Global FinPrint, a five-year international study supported by the Paul G. Allen Foundation, found that the five main shark species that live on coral reefs — grey reef, blacktip reef, whitetip reef, nurse and Caribbean reef sharks — have declined globally by an average of 63 percent.

Results from this latest research includes 22,000 hours of video footage from baited underwater video stations across 391 reefs in 67 nations and territories, indicates widespread overfishing is the main culprit driving reef sharks toward extinction. This large and diverse sample size, including data from multiple WCS shark conservation project sites indicates that this issue is more widespread, and declines more serious than previously predicted.

“The study further highlights that strong shark and ray protections, such as well-enforced MPA’s, bans on capture, or robust fisheries management measures have a significant positive effect on reef shark numbers. This is where WCS comes in. This science, which confirms many of the base principles of our shark and ray work, provides a roadmap for us to support conservation action where it is most needed,” said Luke Warwick, the Director of Shark and Ray Conservation at WCS.

Early results from this study were previously used to update the status of four of these species to more threatened categories on the International Union for the Conservation of Natures (IUCN) Red List. The results also informed decisions during the most recent Conference of the Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), helping world governments, with technical support led by WCS and a wide coalition of shark conservation partners, make the groundbreaking decision to better regulate trade in these  reef sharks and more than 50 additional closely related species.

WCS will use this new study to further inform shark conservation efforts on national and local levels throughout country programs highlighted in the 10x10 Shark and Ray Strategy. With this worldwide effort, and with this crucial information now publicly available, WCS will continue its focus to turn international policies into shark conservation measures such as protections, fisheries management measures and marine protected areas.