FIJI: LIVE SHARKS AND TOURISM
Shark conservation is important on so many levels. Live sharks are worth much more to a tourism – based economy than dead sharks.
A recent article in Live Science in May 2013 looked at Shark eco-tourism world wide is currently bringing in $314 million, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada. This figure is expected to double over the next 20 years. Shark fisheries, on the other hand have earned $600 million per year but this figure has been declining over the last 10-15 yrs.
Let’s look at shark dives in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. Aqua-Trek dive ‘The Bistro’ four times each week and Beqa Adventure Divers do five days at ‘Shark Reef’, 2 kilometres further west. An average of twenty divers on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for 50 weeks a year each pay $200 each day to see live sharks.
Diving revenue alone for these shark encounters is $1 million per year when charters from Beqa Island Resort and Beqa Adventures Divers are included.
$1 million income from shark charters has added value throughout the Fijian economy when divers and their friends spend tourist dollars for reef dives, restaurants, accommodation, day excursions, transfers, car hire, village tours, souvenirs and flights to and from Fiji.
FJ $20 per diver per day is paid to the villages who have shared their traditional fishing reefs to facilitate these shark diving operations.
This has been a win-win for everyone and it gets better. Its not only about the money. The shark feeds were started when coral bleaching events in the early 1990’s destroyed the reef ecosystems. Tourism to the Coral Coast in Fiji diminished to levels that were unsustainable for families who depended on employment at the holiday resorts to feed their children and extended families.
Divers have noted an increasing diversity of species and a return of healthy fish populations. The reefs appear to be recovering from the devastation of the bleaching events in the 1990’s.
Casual observation has suggested that recovery has been significantly faster on reefs closest to the shark feeding operations.