Shark populations have experienced a dramatic decrease in the last 50 years, primarily as a result of human disturbances. A recent article in Current Issues in Tourism by Austin J. Gallagher and Dr. Neil Hammerschlag of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami explains the impact of sharks on coastal economies and the need for conservation efforts.
“We know that for many countries, sharks are an important piece of the economy — in this study we wanted to examine their value as a recreational resource in a new and refreshing way by taking a global perspective,” said Gallagher.
The research team collected data from 376 shark ecotour operations from 83 locations, including eight different geographic regions. Of these locations, Oceania, The Greater Caribbean and North America ranked at the top for the highest proportion of different locations offering shark tour services; the Bahamas contained just over 70 percent of the total shark ecotourism in the Greater Caribbean which generated over $78 million in revenue in 2007 alone.
Similar numbers were found in the Maldives; shark finning was banned there in 2010 because shark-based ecotourism contributed around 30 percent towards their GDP.
“It makes total economic sense for us to protect these resources, whether you are in charge of a coral atoll somewhere in Indonesia or working off the coast of New England—if the sharks can remain, the divers will follow and livelihoods can flourish.”
According to this study, one reef shark could be worth as much as $73 a day alive, but only a one-time value of $50 when sold for fins. That adds up to over $200,000 in one shark’s lifetime, assuming it lives to a mere 15 years old.
“Our study clearly shows that, economically speaking, sharks are worth more alive than dead; however, sharks are also ecologically important, helping maintain the balance and health of our oceans,” says Hammerschlag.
“After the 1975 release of the movie JAWS, the general public felt that ‘the only good shark was a dead shark,’ however in the thirty years that have followed, this mentality has changed. A growing number of people are turning their fear into fascination and want to continue to see sharks in the wild,” said Hammerschlag.
Copyright © 2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC