Drivers of reef shark abundance and biomass in the Solomon Islands

Remote island nations face a number of challenges in addressing concerns about shark population status, including access to rigorously collected data and resources to manage fisheries. At present, very little data are available on shark populations in the Solomon Islands and scientific surveys to document shark and ray diversity and distribution have not been completed. We aimed to provide a baseline of the relative abundance and diversity of reef sharks and rays and assess the major drivers of reef shark abundance/biomass in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands using stereo baited remote underwater video. On average reef sharks were more abundant than in surrounding countries such as Fiji and Indonesia, yet below that of remote islands without historical fishing pressure, suggesting populations are relatively healthy but not pristine. We also assessed the influence of location, habitat type/complexity, depth and prey biomass on reef shark abundance and biomass. Location was the most important factor driving reef shark abundance and biomass with two times the abundance and a 43% greater biomass of reef sharks in the more remote locations, suggesting fishing may be impacting sharks in some areas. Our results give a much needed baseline and suggest that reef shark populations are still relatively unexploited, providing an opportunity for improved management of sharks and rays in the Solomon Islands.