Important news for shark conservation emerged this week; a single reef shark can be worth almost US$ 2 million in tourism revenue over its lifetime! This is according to a study completed by researchers in Australia.
The study, which was centred on the island of Palau in Micronesia, shows that sharks are worth a lot more to the local economy alive rather than dead.
“Sharks can literally be a ‘million-dollar’ species and a significant economic driver,” said lead author Mark Meekan, a scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. “Our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target.”
Diving with sharks is becoming an increasingly popular pastime worldwide and the researchers found that the value to the Palau tourism industry of an individual reef shark at one of the country’s major scuba-diving sites is US$ 179,000 a year, or about US$ 1.9 million over the creature’s lifetime.
Sharks have ruled the oceans for millions of years but recent industrial-scale fishing has decimated their numbers and hundreds of thousands are harvested every year. They are hunted for their meat and fins or caught in nets as unfortunate ‘by-catch’. Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring so even when protective measures are put in place the recovery of the population can be slow.
In 2009, Palau became the first country in the world to declare all of its territorial waters to be a shark sanctuary, followed last year by Honduras and The Maldives.
This study provides compelling evidence that conservationists hope will convince more governments to protect these creatures for the good of the country’s financial economy as well as for a healthy marine eco-system.
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