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Experts: Shark sightings, while unnerving, actually mean the ecosystem in the body of water is very healthy

Experts: Shark sightings mean the ecosystem is very healthy
Experts: Shark sightings mean the ecosystem is very healthy 02:07

LONG BEACH, N.Y. -- More recent shark sightings have lifeguards on increased patrol on Long Island.

But experts explained to CBS2's Leah Mishkin on Monday why it's a positive sign for our waters.

A shark sighting is not what we hope for when we go to the beach, at least not for most, but Stony Brook University Marine Sciences Center manager Chris Paparo says it's good news.

"It means our waters are healthy and clean," Paparo said.

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Experts say by the 1970s populations of sharks crashed, adding it was a combination of factors from overfishing to contamination of their habitats, water pollution.

"Beginning in the early to mid '90s, we started to work on this problem and say we really need to have the shark population back into healthy condition," said Dr. Bob Hueter, chief scientist at OCEARCH.

Hueter explained that losing sharks has a rippling effect on the ecosystem.

"You have a layering of the top predators all the way down to the plants. When you cut that top layer off you end up losing things, sometimes even the whole habitat," Hueter said.

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He says successful conservation efforts, from tackling the overfishing problem to cleaning up our waterways, have helped bring shark populations back within the last 10 years on the Atlantic Coast.

"Especially sand tiger sharks, dusky sharks and sandbar sharks, which are the ones that are most frequently experienced in the surf zone or right around the ocean beaches," Paparo added.

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Paparo says the researchers he works with do a lots of transplanting of clams and oyster reefs to also help clean the water.

"Our ocean beaches, the Long Island Sound, a lot of these places have gotten much, much better in the last couple of years. If there are sharks in your area, it means it's a healthy ecosystem," Paparo said.

As for fears of shark attacks, both experts stress its rarity.

"Last year, there were 73 unprovoked attacks worldwide," Paparo said.

"They're not interested in us. When they do bite, it's typically an interaction that's a mistake," Hueter added.

As Hueter puts it, this is a story of bringing nature back if you give it a chance. He says it's a sign of a success in the conservation world.

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