Shark Ecotourism can help protect sharks from fishing and even allow shark populations to recover. However, some practices attracting sharks and maintaining their presence in an area may have negative impacts on individual sharks, shark behavior and even populations.
Chumming to attract sharks with blood, large pieces of fish or unnatural food sources like chicken or other meat can have deleterious impacts on sharks and the habitat they live in. Left over fish that decays on reefs can create an overabundance of microbes that leads to coral death or algal blooms. Some shark wrangling (eg tossing bait attached to a line and drawing the shark towards the cage or photographer) can lead to sharks striking cages and injuring themselves or the occupants of the cage. Evidence of this at Guadalupe Island has led to temporary closure of the operations, and in the case of a white shark that appeared to die after striking a cage at Guadalupe in 2019, lead to public outcry and condemnation of the practice.
On the other hand, tourism can benefit the local economy leading to better shark awareness and protection. Dive tourism contributes up to 18 Million Dollars US to the Island of Palau’s national economy.
One study in French Polynesia indicates a single reef shark is worth $100,000 US a year. Alternatively, a dead shark might bring a fisherman $100 for a one time gain. In areas of Mexico and Honduras whale shark ecotourism is helping prevent poaching and building a sustainable local economy outside of fishing.
Shark tourism depends on the operation and the location. Below we have helped develop some suggested shark tourism guidelines that will help minimize impacts while providing opportunity to see sharks safely in the wild.
Top 10 Tips for Shark Conservation Travel
Respect the shark: maintain a respectful distance in the water. Observe the shark’s behavior and act accordingly. Avoid approaching or spooking a shark- let the shark approach you.
Avoid shark diving operations that use chum or excess bait to attract sharks. This practice changes the natural behavior of sharks and can be dangerous to humans.
When baiting large sharks use containers that will not harm the shark or break free, or hemp line that will degrade and not injure the shark’s mouth.
Clear water and beaches of plastic and other litter, even if it’s not yours. Sharks and other wildlife can ingest plastic, small floats or get entangled in fishing or mooring line.
When boating in the ocean, slow down when sharks and other wildlife are present and avoid anchoring in sensitive coral reefs and seagrass beds.
Choose to eat local and sustainable food caught with environmentally-friendly fishing gear – preferably troll or hook and line. Avoid establishments that serve shark fin soup. Do not eat sharks.
For the best experience, look to travel with a shark conservation tour or volunteer with a shark conservation project.
Reduce your carbon footprint while on vacation. Climate change affects ocean wildlife by altering their habitat and affecting their food sources.
Donate to local shark and wildlife conservation organizations where you travel.
Dive with an expert, they can help you understand shark behavior and know what kinds of sharks will be around.
Please email us to join us on an expedition or donate to support our work.