Shark-watching may pay more than shark fishing

Shark tourism could be a bigger moneymaker than shark fishing, a new study suggests.

Interest in observing wild sharks has grown, with shark-watching hotspots popping up in Australia, Africa, Central America, and Asia. To find out how much revenue these tourism activities generated, a research team searched for data in scientific journals, reports, news articles, and databases.

Based on data from 31 sites, they estimated that roughly 590,000 people participate in shark-watching each year, spending $314 million. The number of visitors has grown by 27 percent annually, suggesting that spending could reach $785 million in the next two decades, the team says in Oryx. In contrast, shark fishing generates $630 million per year and is waning.

The news is encouraging for shark conservation — but ecotourism comes with its own problems. Flocks of visitors could disturb the animals and hurt coral reefs, the authors note. Some shark-watching tour operators also feed the sharks, a practice that “has been questioned because of possible effects on shark behaviour,” the team writes. — Roberta Kwok | 6 June 2013

Source: Cisneros-Montemayor, A.M. et al. 2013. Global economic value of shark ecotourism: implications for conservation. Oryx doi: 10.1017/S0030605312001718.

Image © Kavun Kseniia | Shutterstock.com

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