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Most reef sharks, rays facing extinction

Most of the world's species of coral reef sharks and rays are at risk of extinction, with fishing the number one threat, a new study reveals.

An international team of academics evaluated 134 coral reef shark and ray species globally and found 59 per cent were threatened with extinction.

Professor Colin Simpfendorfer from Queensland's James Cook University took part in the study and is calling for urgent efforts to reverse the trend.

At greatest risk are the larger species, living in shallow water which are spread across a number of national jurisdictions subjecting them to a patchwork of management, he explained.

"Risk also increases for animals living in the waters of nations with greater fishing pressure and weaker governance," Prof Simpfendorfer said.

"What we need to see is immediate action through local protections, combined with broad-scale fisheries management and marine protected areas.

"This is required to avoid extinctions and the loss of critical ecosystem function - condemning reefs to a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, limiting livelihoods and food security."

On top of the threat from fishing, coral reefs are one of the most at-risk ecosystems from global climate change, Prof Simpfendorfer said.

Sharks and rays play a wide range of niche ecological roles, from filter feeders to apex predators and are crucial for the functioning of coral reef ecosystems.