By: Daniel Norwood
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. This statement has particular relevance to shark tourism, and considering the current state of our oceans, and the rapid decline in shark populations, it is vital that all marine tourism operators adhere to these guidelines. Any company failing to do so puts the future of the activity at risk and cannot be considered truly sustainable.
Here are some key principles that any successful shark ecotourism company should follow:
Despite its reputation, shark tourism is statistically very safe and accidents are extremely rare. That being said, some species are large and potentially harmful to humans. In order to interact with these sharks in the wild, every precaution must be taken to make sure the activity is done safely.
Swimming with sharks comes with a responsibility to treat them and their environment with respect. In recent years, it has become popular to stroke, hug and even ride sharks. Simply observing sharks in their natural habitat is an amazing experience and is much safer.
Many tourists are attracted to shark diving because they think it is dangerous, and as a consequence, some companies promote the activity as an extreme sport. Unfortunately, these type of interactions misrepresent sharks and do not teach the participants anything valuable about them. The best companies offer not only a safe, but also an educational experience. Providing detailed briefings before the dive is a great way to explain facts about shark biology, ecology and even shark awareness courses.
1.Supporting scientific research: Scientific research is fundamental to understanding shark biology and ecology, and shark tourism can help significantly by enabling scientists to collect the necessary data. Moreover, by studying their local movements and migration patterns, we can understand where sharks are going and how marine tourism may be affecting them.
2.Protecting shark habitats: If shark conservation initiatives are to be effective, it is vital that they concentrate on protecting the entire ecosystem. The best way is to legally protect their environment and set up marine protected areas or shark sanctuaries.
3.Benefit local communities: Shark conservation initiatives should be achieved in collaboration with the local community while showing respect and understanding for their culture and tradition. Possible ways include offering jobs, compensation and inviting community members to take part in the activities.