Over the past weeks, Save Our Sharks project officer Linda has been posting a series of reasons why people should start loving sharks. After reason number one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven, number eight addresses a motive that most people understand:
“Sharks can be worth serious money.”
Shark conservation campaigns have used the slogan “Sharks are worth more alive”, referring to the revenue that can be made from diving tourism. As a marine biologist and general ocean enthusiast, of course, I feel that living sharks have great value, but having some hard numbers helps to state my case. A shark can be worth money in two ways: either by being sold dead or exposed alive. The former option, in most cases, raises a relatively small amount of money, as shark meat is not a very valuable type of meat. Not in the least because it spoils easily and the meat of certain species is apt to be very strongly flavored. Shark fins and the gill plates of manta rays, however, remain highly valuable commodities.
The global shark diving industry takes places in 29 different countries with close to 400 different operators. Scuba divers are willing to fly long distances and spend big money just to get a chance to see sharks in their natural habitat. The most suitable places for shark tourism is where the sharks tend to stay within a small area, like many reef-associated species do, or where the shark’s visit to the area is highly predictable, such as for whale sharks and manta rays in Mexico. In these spots, people can make money off of the sharks by offering recreational dive trips, or providing a scene for film and television, and asking money for research and conservation activities.
In places that are currently driven by shark fishing to generate income, efforts are being made to change paradigms in local communities and transform fisheries-based systems into tourism-based economies. In Indonesia for instance, the trade in manta ray gills is one of the only things that the locals rely on for their livelihoods. However, studies led by WildAid, the Manta Trust, and Shark Savers estimated that manta ray ecotourism could generate as much as $140 million US in annual revenues, with $15 million in Indonesia alone. Unfortunately, these same populations of manta rays are threatened by targeted fisheries, which only generate $ 400,000 US annually in comparison. Although the transition from fisherman to tour guide is not necessarily a simple one, examples from the Bahamas demonstrate that it can be done. There, shark tourism is now common practice, and shark fishing has been banned for years. The dive industry in the Bahamas generates nearly € 109 million per year, with 99 percent coming from shark diving.
Want to do some further reading on the subject?
- Haas et al. (2017) The contemporary economic value of elasmobranchs in The Bahamas: Reaping the rewards of 25 years of stewardship and conservation.
- Gallagher and Hammerschlag (2011) Global shark currency: the distribution, frequency, and economic value of shark ecotourism
- Cisneros-Montemayor et al. (2013) Global economic value of shark ecotourism: implications for conservation
By Linda Planthof