Sharks and the sustainable blue economy

Bridging marine predator conservation and economic opportunity

By: Vivian Guido, Shark Stewards Communication Team


The sustainable blue economy, which focuses on the use of ocean resources for economic growth while preserving the health and growth of ocean ecosystems, is gaining momentum worldwide. Sharks, often feared and misunderstood, are emerging as key players in this steadily growing and changing industry. Their role in maintaining marine ecosystem balance is crucial, and innovative ecotourism ventures are turning them into valuable economic assets for coastal and island communities. 

How shark and diving ecotourism can be a win-win model

Shark and diving ecotourism are at the forefront of the sustainable blue economy, offering unique and exciting experiences while promoting conservation. In places like the Bahamas, shark diving has become a significant economic driver. The Bahamas’ shark tourism industry generates an estimated $114 million annually, providing substantial income for local businesses and communities.1 Tourists flock to these waters for the chance to see majestic species like the Caribbean reef shark and tiger shark up close, ensuring that live sharks are far more valuable than their fins.2

Similarly, Fiji has established itself as a premier destination for shark diving, with the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Beqa Lagoon serving as a shining example. Local communities, working in collaboration with conservation groups, have created a protected area where sharks thrive.3 This initiative not only safeguards marine biodiversity but also brings in significant revenue through tourism, illustrating a sustainable model where both sharks and humans benefit.3

Economic Opportunities for Communities

The economic opportunities stemming from shark-related tourism extend beyond the immediate revenue. They foster the creation of local jobs, from dive guides and boat operators to hospitality staff and conservation professionals, and they also help increase environmental education and awareness throughout the communities. For instance, in South Africa, shark cage diving in Gansbaai has transformed the local economy. What was once a small fishing village has become a bustling hub of ecotourism, attracting visitors from around the globe.4

Moreover, these ventures often support broader community development. Revenues generated from shark tourism can fund local schools, healthcare, and infrastructure projects, enhancing the quality of life for residents. In the Pacific island of Palau, the government has designated its waters as a shark sanctuary, recognizing the immense value sharks bring to the local economy through tourism.5 This move not only protects shark populations but also boosts national income, reinforcing the intrinsic link between conservation and economic resilience.5

Conservation Benefits

Sharks play a pivotal role in ocean ecosystems, acting as apex predators that maintain the health and balance of marine environments.6 Their presence regulates species populations, which helps prevent the overgrazing of seagrasses and reefs by smaller marine animals.6 By promoting healthy oceanic ecosystems, sharks indirectly support fisheries and other marine industries critical to the blue economy.

Global blue economy strategies increasingly recognize the importance of conserving shark populations. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG #14) emphasizes the need to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources. By integrating shark conservation into these strategies, nations can ensure the long-term sustainability of their marine economies. However, recent studies have shown that tangible action has been slower for SDG #14 than all other SDGs, finding major challenges remaining across all parts of the world to address marine conservation issues.7 While the SDGs aim for completion by 2030, four targets had a 2020 deadline. These included protecting marine ecosystems, regulating harvesting to end overfishing and IUU fishing, conserving 10% of coastal areas, and ending harmful fisheries subsidies.7 Unfortunately, progress on these targets has been deemed “a round and inclusive failure” with political declarations and commitments having outweighed actual progress towards achieving SDG #14 by a wide margin.7 

Moving forward, effective measures including implementing shark sanctuaries and marine protected areas, regulating and enforcing fishing or poaching laws, and supporting international agreements like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species(CITES) to regulate shark fin trade must all be of paramount importance to policymakers and stakeholders. Shark Stewards has contributed to many of these initiatives, and continues to work towards socio-political change for the protection of sharks and oceans.


Incorporating sharks into the sustainable blue economy framework presents a promising path forward. Through ecotourism, communities gain valuable economic opportunities, fostering a culture of conservation and sustainable development. By safeguarding these incredible creatures, we not only preserve marine biodiversity but also ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from the ocean’s resources. The link between shark conservation and economic growth is a testament to the potential of a global sustainable blue economy for all.


  1. Warwick, L. (2017). Shark Dive Tourism Is Big Business in The Bahamas. Pew: Charitable Trusts, (Global Shark Conservation). Retrieved June 10, 2024, from
  2. Morris-Blake, J. (2017, February). IN THE BAHAMAS, SHARKS ARE WORTH FAR MORE ALIVE THAN DEAD. Oceanographic Magazine, (Conservation).
  3. Brunnschweiler, J. M. (2010, January). The Shark Reef Marine Reserve: A marine tourism project in Fiji involving local communities. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 18(1), 29-42. DOI:10.1080/09669580903071987
  5. Vianna GMS, Meekan MG, Pannell DJ, Marsh SP, Meeuwig JJ. (January, 2012). Socio-economic value and community benefits from Shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations. Biological Conservation. 2012;145(1):267-277. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.022  
  6. Heithaus, Michael & Dunn, Ruth & Farabaugh, N. & Lester, Emily & Madin, Elizabeth & Meekan, Mark & Papastamatiou, Yannis & Roff, George & Vaudo, Jeremy & Wirsing, Aaron. (2022). Advances in Our Understanding of the Ecological Importance of Sharks and Their Relatives. 10.1201/9781003262190-15.  
  7. M. Andriamahefazafy, G. Touron-Gardic, A. March, G. Hosch, M.L.D. Palomares, P. Failler. (July 16th 2022). Sustainable development goal 14: To what degree have we achieved the 2020 targets for our oceans?, Ocean & Coastal Management, Volume 227, 2022, 106273, ISSN 0964-5691,