Shark Tourism Prepared by Prof. Steve Oakley Tropical Research and Conservation Centre Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Prof.firstname.lastname@example.org May 2011 It is possible to find sharks in S.E. Asia but nowhere are they as abundant as in Bahamas, Maldives, Seychelles or Palau. All of these countries have a very developed dive tourist industry and have varying degrees of protection for sharks and fish populations. Only the very best, remote reefs of Thailand, Vietnam or the Philippines have populations of sharks and these are expensive to get to. The competitor countries have sharks but also have longer flight times higher prices and more expensive live-aboard accommodation. The fear of great white sharks has created a massive tourist industry earning millions each year. In South Africa, 300 people each day dive with sharks. They pay US$30,000 per day for the dives and over US$45,000 for hotels, food and transport. The 20 or so movie star sharks only get paid in fish and yet they earn about US$75,000 per day for the country. Only football players and movie stars earn that much. We don't kill football players for their hands and feet! Why kill sharks for their fins? Worldwide, tourism generated by whale sharks - the largest species of fish on the planet - is estimated to total more than US$47.5 million a year. Other countries are cashing in on shark fever, a ban on shark catching has become common in countries with a tropical tourist industry. Many of Malaysia's rivals for global tourists have protected their sharks: from the Maldives and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to Guam, Palau and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, it is being seen as big business to have healthy shark populations.
A 2010 survey of live-aboard visitors to Osprey Reef (GBR, Australia) summarises the current market value of sharks, Over 1000 divers would be willing to pay more for a Guaranteed sighting of sharks than they would for a Guaranteed sighting of large fish, marine turtles or a wide variety of species.
The Bahamas in the Caribbean sea, is the shark tourist capital of the world, a few people in the 1980's looked at the assets of the country and lobbied to protect what they could. The Bahamas is now one of these rare exceptions where healthy shark populations still exist. Because of the ban on longline fishing gear in the 1990s, Bahamian shark populations remain relatively healthy with a great diversity of species. Many tourists come to The Bahamas to participate in diving or recreational fishing. Television and film crews also frequent The Bahamas to make use of the clear water and available shark species, generating further public and media attention for the islands. As a result, the high diversity and abundance of sharks provide a valuable asset to the Bahamian economy. A single reef shark is estimated to be worth US$250,000 over its lifetime for tourism if kept alive on the reef. If it is fished, the same shark generates a one-time value of less than US$50. The most recent (2011) economic asessment in Palau with mostly high value tourists from Japan and Korea estimates that each reef shark at popular dive sites is worth US$2.0 million over its lifetime as tourist income. Sharks are clearly worth more alive than dead, demonstrating the need to protect this valuable resource.