Friday, December 9, 2011

Commercial Shark Diving - Can it Save Sharks?

Talking a bite out of fisheries with sustainable commercial shark diving?
"Data provided by Pew Environmental Group highlights the economic value of live sharks. Belize, for example, rakes in almost $4 million annually from whale shark tours. Shark diving in the Indo-Pacific region generates an estimated $40 million annually, and Spain’s Canary Islands get $24.7 million each year from shark diving. Sharks and shark-related tourism have earned the Bahamas more than $800 million in the 20 years since the country banned long-line fishing."

All that data is well and good but are sharks being saved globally in the balance between sustainable commercialization of sharks and the non sustainable kind that sees sharks reduced to component parts?

I am going to run out on a limb here and say no - not yet.

I don't think we have reached a point as a commercial shark diving industry where we have the ability to partner with mainstream resorts and developments to create commercial shark diving sites globally, and we need to, soon.

To do this we need to partner with an NGO that has the reach and the heft to scale up commercial shark diving in areas that currently have no shark diving at all. Think of this as a string of pearls with dive sites linking each other under a global umbrella, each one creating it's own local set aside area for sharks that are monetized.

An NGO like PEW with Matt Rand would be an excellent choice.

PEW fundamentally gets commercial shark diving, and done right, it's positive ripple effects for regional shark fisheries are undisputed.

Those within our industry who are invested in sharks sustainably work with conservation to preserve their resource. We have seen this from Isla Guadalupe, to Honduras, to great effect. But these efforts are still a drop in the bucket compared to the many millions of sea acres that contain the right matrix for commercial shark diving:

1. A solid tourism infrastructure, with regional hotel partners and government buy in

2. Accessible dive sites, snorkel sites, and or long range boats

3. Accessible "marquis species" sharks from whale sharks to great whites

4. Set shark diving protocols for safe encounters

Our industry, thanks to many early trailblazers, enjoys several shark diving models with different species, all of which have proven to offer safe encounters over time. We need to scale these models up and offer the incentives for regional interested parties to begin their own commercial shark diving operations in their own backyards.

For the less inventive of you out there saying, "this is impossible" we say, not so.

One of the primary problems for small regional shark diving operators is marketing. How do you tap into a global audeince, how much does that cost? With today's Internet we might propose an umbrella site wherein all the small scale shark dive sites were listed in detail with video, images and contact information for prospective shark divers. Think of this site as a planning site and a partner like, or Lonely Planet might offer the marketing reach and platform for this.

It can also be built as a stand alone site and marketed as such.

Having an NGO like PEW push governments to sanction shark diving and provide backing for government sites would help scale this effort.

As a decade long veteran of commercial shark diving and having seen our industry grow and mature over the past decade I believe we have reached the point where scalability is not only the right thing to do but the inevitable thing.

If we really want to help sharks and change the way people see them, put two decades of operational knowledge, marketing, and if possible government sanctions behind an effort to bring commercial shark diving to the world in a way that is visionary, safe, and an investment in the future.

It's not rocket science, but it is a science and we can do this, the question is, does anyone want to?

Patric Douglas

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