Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism For Shark Conservation
When many people hear the words “shark” and “tourism” in the same sentence, the first thing they think of is how to avoid them. Unfortunately these people are missing the opportunity to witness and learn about one of nature’s truly astounding creatures. While shark attacks are real and many movies and media outlets capitalize on this fear (see Channel, Discovery), there are common sense ways to avoid danger and have a great experience while contributing to shark conservation efforts.
The real predator
According to the conservation group Oceana, an average of 4 people per year were killed by sharks and only 3 fatal attacks in the US from 2006 – 2010 (out of 179 total). Beachgoers are more than 3 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark attack. Compare that to the more than 25 million sharks killed by humans each year, and it becomes clear who is more dangerous.
Sharks, as top predators, are critically important to the health of the ocean. One of the biggest issues why many shark species are endangered is due to the international trade in shark fins, used as a delicacy in shark fin soup, consumed primarily in Asia. According to Shark Advocates International, they are also valued for their meat, hides, teeth, and livers. Due to the facts that sharks grow slowly, take a long time to reproduce, and give birth to small numbers of offspring, these fish are especially susceptible to human threats.
Tourism as a conservation tool
One strategy to help protect and research sharks that is gaining popularity is ecotourism. A recent study of sharks around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island estimated the value of a hammerhead shark to tourism at US $1.6 million each, compared to just under $200 it could bring if sold. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science had an even more dramatic difference, estimating a lifetime value of nearly US $2 million dollars for a reef shark in Palau vs. only $108 for sale in a fish market. Governments are starting to take notice of this economic value; countries including Australia, Palau, and the Cook Islands have recently created large new marine protected areas to protect sharks and other ocean life.
While diving to see sharks has its abstract value, many tour operators and volunteer organizations are taking advantage of shark tourism to directly benefit conservation. SEEtheWILD partner Sea Turtle Restoration Project has a unique trip for divers to the Cocos Island where people can help to tag hammerheads as part of a research program. In Belize, Earthwatch Institute has a volunteer program in Belize to study shark populations and the value of marine protected areas.
Another way that travelers can support shark research is by participating in the Whale Shark Photo ID Library. Anyone with underwater photos of whale sharks can upload them to this website for identification, helping to build this important resource for conservation efforts. Finally, some shark trips generate donations for conservation efforts, including this whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres (Mexico).
Playing it safe
For those who get sweaty at the mention of sharks, there are many ways to keep yourself safe when in the water with sharks. The easiest way to do that is to swim with the least threatening of sharks, the whale sharks. Though these giant fish can be 40 feet long and weigh 20 tons, they don’t have teeth and are not aggressive to humans. Also, by remaining calm around sharks and keeping your distance, you can minimize the risk of being around these fascinating creatures. If you are diving or snorkeling in areas where sharks live, ask your guide about what to expect and what species to look out for.
Check out SEEtheWILD’s shark conservation tours and volunteer programs:
Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website. To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.
Part of the territory of being an ESC employee is volunteering in the local Indianapolis community. Over the years ESC has volunteered at several Indy organizations including the Humane Society and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Most recently ESC employees have been serving lunch at the Wheeler Mission, a shelter that helps the homeless population of Indianapolis.
While the company all ready gives back 10% of its net profits to its partners, it also believes that taking the time to reach-out locally is an important aspect of its overall mission to give back. Most recently ESC teamed-up with the Peace Learning Center to participate in the Indiana Service Challenge.
As part of the service challenge ESC worked on a project for Peace Learning Center’s Be the Change Workshop and Exhibit. ESC employee’s spent a sunny April afternoon away from their desks making a whale out of trash that the Peace Learning Center had collected to represent the types of things that have been found in a whale’s stomach. The hope is that the summer groups that visit the center that are primarily young schoolchildren, will see the whale project and have a better understanding of what happens to their trash when they don’t recycle or properly dispose it.
So how do you give back in your local community? We would love to hear from you and it may just spark some ideas for us!
We just wrapped up an Earth Day sweepstakes on Facebook, Win a Feel Good Moment, where we offered a chance to win $1000 for the non-profit of the winner’s choice. Choosing an eco-charity to support is a difficult one – there are so many great ones out there! We know this firsthand. To fulfill our 10% GiveBack Promise, we scour stacks of applications and dig deep into each organization. Here are shortcuts we’ve learned along the way to help you narrow down your choices and match up with the perfect conservation org:
1. PINPOINT YOUR CAUSE. Whether you’re interested in wildlife preservation, land conservation or climate change, there are resources to help you find an environmental org that supports your interests. Spend some time with a search engine to get a sense of the organizations out there that share your environmental concerns.
2. CHECK THEIR PERFORMANCE. Once you have a handful of organizations that speak to your eco concerns, Charity Navigator (for larger charities) and Better Business Bureau Giving Alliance (for local giving) are great places to dig deeper. These sites offer free tools to evaluate the financials, accountability and transparency of non-profits. With a few simple clicks, you’ll know which charities are trustworthy.
3. GET TO KNOW THEM, THEN JOIN THEM. Now that you’ve honed in on groups that mesh with your ideals, visit their websites. Sign up for their newsletters. Follow them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). You’ll quickly gain an understanding of the scope of their work and involvement with their members. A good match will make you feel good, excited and involved in making an impact.
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking for a charity to support? Comment below and share your experiences.
Some stories just get inside your head and don’t let go. African Wildlife Foundation’s January announcement of the birth of two white rhinos really grabbed me. Maybe it was the incredibly cute baby calf photo album on Facebook or perhaps I’ve just read the inside of our Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee Rhino Bar wrapper one too many times. In any case, I was compelled to learn more.
Starting the New Year off on a bright note, two white rhino calves were born in Mosi-Oa-Tunya Park, an incredibly beautiful Zambian widlife refuge. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) assisted in placing the mothers in the park over a year ago – after all but one of Zambia’s rhinos were killed by poachers. The calves and their mothers are currently under heavy guard by the Zambia Wildlife Authority with support from AWF. When you look at the statistics, it is clear why this protection is imperative:
- 2007 – 13 rhinos killed
- 2008 – 83 rhinos killed
- 2009 – 122 rhinos killed
- 2010 – 333 rhinos killed (Source: Care2)
The disturbing rise in poaching is attributed to increased demand for rhino horn, which has long been prized as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. The numbers in the chart above astound and dishearten me. I think that’s why the story of the baby rhino births grabbed me and wouldn’t let go – it’s a reminder that conservation can overcome the senseless damage humans inflict on endangered populations.
What gives you hope?
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