The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines ecotourism as “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features- both past and present) that promotes conservations, has low negative visitor impact and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations” (Leung, Spenceley, Hvenegaard, & Buckley, 2015).
Ecotourism is a relatively new industry. In the 1970’s, it was an untested idea that wildlife tourism could be economically beneficial. In 1981, Thresher demonstrated in his article The Economics of a Lion that wildlife tourism in Kenya had a greater economic benefit to the region than hunting (Thresher, 1981). Ecotourism continued to expand in the 1980’s as scientists and film makers ventured into remote regions of the rain forest and isolated coral reefs, the industry expanded rapidly (Wood, 2002). Today, ecotourism is a booming global industry (Orams, 1996).
When ecotourism is executed correctly, it has long reaching positive benefits for the environment and local community. By generating revenue to manage and protect species and their habitats, enabling local peoples, and raising awareness for the need for conservation of habitats and species, ecotourism stands to benefit the local and global populations (De Los Monteros, 2002; Goodwin, 1996).
Wildlife tourism of charismatic animals, like manatees, whales, dolphins, turtles, and sharks, have increased rapidly in recent years (Orams, 1996). Shark ecotourism has been expanding globally for the last several decades (Cisneros-Montemayor, Barnes-Mauthe, Al-Abdulrazzak, Navarro-Holm, & Sumaila, 2013). In 2013, shark watching activities grossed 215 million USD in reporting countries! That is greater than the value of total landed sharks – sharks that are brought into port by commercial and recreational fisheries – in the same year (Cisneros-Montemayor, et al., 2013). And the value of shark ecotourism is only increasing. It is estimated that within 20 years shark ecotourism will gross 785 million USD annually (Cisneros-Montemayor, et al., 2013)! As the global economic value of shark tourism is on the rise, the value of landed sharks has been steadily declining over the past decade likely due to overfishing (Clarke, 2004).
Recently, local and federal governments around the world have been paying more attention to shark ecotourism and the benefits the industry brings. In 2009 Palau created the first shark sanctuary in the world. The sanctuary protects nearly 230,000 sq miles (600,000 sq km) of open ocean (Black, 2009). A region nearly as large as France! Within this area, all commercial fishing is prohibited. Since the creation of that first shark sanctuary, several countries including Honduras, Guam, the Maldives, Micronesia, the Bahamas, and many more have created their own shark sanctuaries and marine protected areas. All huge steps in the right direction! But we still have a long way to go!
If you are thinking about taking part in an ecotourism activity, I implore you to seek an ethical tourism company. Be sure to check local laws and customs to ensure that the company you are booking through is responsible. While ecotourism has the potential to have a positive impact, it can also be damaging for wildlife, the environment, and the local peoples if handled incorrectly. I’ll explore some of those issues next week!
The new Ocean For Sharks Shop is open! There’s handmade ocean inspired plush animals, canvas paintings, and of course my children’s book, Winifred the Wondrous Whale Shark, available in print and PDF. Be sure to stop by. Remember proceeds benefit shark research and conservation with a donation to Project AWARE!
Remember you can make a difference for marine ecosystems by calling your Congress man or woman and tell them that you care about the quality of our waters! Sharks, rays, and other marine organisms cannot speak or be represented in Congress. They need your voice. Get involved and stand up for sharks. Until next time finatics.
Featured Image Source
Flannery, A. (Photographer). (2017 May 13). Pacific Whale Foundation Cruise, Maui, HI [Digital Image].
Black, R. (2009, September 26). Palau pioneers ‘shark sanctuary.’ BBC. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Cisneros-Montemayor, A. M., Barnes-Mauthe, M., Al-Abdulrazzak, D., Navarro-Holm, E., & Sumaila, U. R. (2013). Global economic value of shark ecotourism: implications for conservation. Oryx, 47(3), 381–388.
Clarke, S. (2004). Understanding pressures on fishery resources through trade statistics: A pilot study of four products in the Chinese dried seafood market. Fish and Fisheries, 5(1), 53–74.
De Los Monteros, R. L. E. (2002). Evaluating ecotourism in natural protected areas of La Paz Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico: ecotourism or nature-based tourism? Biodiversity & Conservation, 11(9), 1539–1550.
Goodwin, H. (1996). In pursuit of ecotourism. Biodiversity and Conservation, 5(October 1995), 277–291.
Leung, Y. F., Spenceley, A., Hvenegaard, G., & Buckley, R. (2015). Tourism and visitor management in Protected Areas: Guidelines towards sustainability. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series.
Orams, M. B. (1996). Using Interpretation to Manage Nature-based Tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4(2), 81–94.
Thresher, P. (1981). The economics of a lion. Unasylva, 33(134), 34–35.
Wood, M. E. (2002). Ecotourism : Principles, practices , & policies for sustainability. The International Ecotourism Society. Burlington, VT.