Monday, August 18, 2008

Sharks and Tourism - Monetizing is not a dirty word

I was in the middle of a conversation with a well know shark biologist the other day when he said, "yeah but you guys are just commercializing sharks."

By "you guys" he meant an entire worldwide shark diving industry.

I had to agree we are, but so are "they" and by "they" I mean the folks who see sharks as nothing but raw product.

As far as shark commercialization goes it's come down to a bit of a race with no creamy center in this debate. By creamy center I mean those who would like to see sharks just left alone and protected.

This paradigm - the "protected areas" for marine life has major issues. It's a concept of the 1970's and does not even begin to address lack of enforcement, species migration patterns, or any of a host of other problems.

So, back to the conversation. Yes, we as shark diving operations "commercialize sharks," but it could be so much more, with just a little vision and effort. Commercial shark diving, done right, is a bridge to sustainable solutions with shark populations. Taking a page from Wild Aid and now the WWF, the only way to combat the rampant raw product commercialization of a species is to sustainably commercialize it.

"Heresy!" you say.

Not so. Look at Mountain Gorillas prior to the advent of Gorilla Tourism (yes some problems there but it's one example). Observe Grizzly Bears in Alaska, how about Whale populations worldwide in breeding areas like Tonga and Mexico?

Wherever local populations have a financial incentive, that's where you'll find either raw product uses or sustainable uses for species. Commercialization of a species abhors a vacuum. Left to their own devices populations will ramp up existing raw product use of a species until that species is no longer available.

With global human populations growing and raw product demand exceeding supply in many areas the viable bridge solution is sustainable tourism. We just need to adapt with the situation in front of us today and lose the old school distaste for sustainable species commercialization.

The sooner we do, the sooner we can begin to save sharks worldwide...with a purpose.

Patric Douglas CEO