This study examined the characteristics of a blacktip reef shark Carcharhinus melanopterus population in turbid coastal habitats through a multi-year fishery-independent sampling and tag–recapture programme. Results revealed a highly structured population comprised almost entirely of juveniles and adult females with individuals between 850 and 1050 mm total length effectively absent. Mature males were also rarely encountered with adult sex ratio highly biased towards females (female:male = 7:1). Mating scars were observed on adult females between December and April, and parturition was observed from December to March. Regression analysis showed that catch rates were significantly higher during the summer wet season between November and May. Recapture data suggested a highly resident population with a recapture rate of 21% and a mean recapture distance of 0·8 km. In addition, 33% of recaptured animals were captured multiple times, indicating long-term residency. Most recaptures were, however, of adults with few juveniles recaptured. Widespread sampling at the study site and in adjacent areas suggested that the population was highly localized to a specific bay. The bimodal and sex-segregated population structure observed here differs from previous reports for this species, and in combination with reproductive observations, suggests population structuring to facilitate reproductive and recruitment success. These data also highlight the potential ecosystem functions performed by coastal habitats in sustaining C. melanopterus populations.