Sustainable Shark Diving (www.sustainablesharkdiving.com) is a new website that provides tools and “Trip Advisor-like reviews of shark dive tourism operations around the world. The website, previewed at the 2015 DEMA Show in Florida has offers shark divers an opportunity to learn about best practices while helping to promote more sustainable environmental behavior and safety within the industry.
The popularity and growth of shark dive tourism over the past decade is undeniable. Divers increasingly want to see sharks and are willing to pay well to have close encounters with these charismatic species. For a critically threatened group such as sharks, this is good news. “Over 100 million sharks die each year due to interactions with fisheries, “ reports Rick MacPherson, marine biologist, conservationist, and founder of the new online tool Sustainable Shark Diving “I believe a living shark showcased for tourism over its lifetime is better than a dead shark used once for its fins and meat,” says MacPherson. “I created sustainablesharkdiving.com as a free, open access portal for tourists and dive operators to help underscore the value of healthy shark populations to tourism as well as highlight best practices and lessons learned from shark dive operations around the world.” Dr Austin Gallagher, Postdoctoral Researcher at Carleton University and principal author of a ground-breaking 2015 global study of the shark diving industry, agrees, “The value of shark diving tourism to local economies and cultures has emerged as one of the leading arguments for the conservation of sharks around the world.”
The shark dive tourism industry has already taken note of the value of this new online tool. Jorge Loria, owner of Phantom Divers, a bull shark diving operation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, believes this tool will help create a higher standard for the growing shark diving industry, “Diving with a sustainable business that is safe and educational results in a benefit to both divers and sharks because the more we know about sharks the better we can protect them.” Mike Neumann, owner of Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji agrees: “This will be a game changer and a huge step towards propelling the shark diving industry towards a more long term sustainable model.” Sustainable Shark Diving fills an industry need by providing a free, one-stop source for best safety and environmental practices and guidelines that have been established around the world for the viewing of sharks (and their flat cousins the rays).
“Sustainable Shark Diving offers visitors a compilation of shark diving best practices and guidelines,” explains MacPherson. “You can search by shark species or by region. Whether you want to dive with white sharks, whale sharks, oceanic whitetip, bull, nurse, or any species, you will find the most currently accepted sustainability guidelines for that type of experience.”
Importantly, Sustainable Shark Diving features a Trip Advisor-like review section that allows divers to rate their experience with any shark dive operation against a set of sustainability criteria that includes safety, environmental performance, staff interactions, and overall educational/conservation value. “This tool has enormous potential to begin pushing the entire global industry closer to sustainability and accountability”, says Dr Gallagher. “By allowing the tourists themselves – the lifeblood of this and any tourism industry – to rank the performance, safety, and environmental ethics of operators around the world, the industry as a whole becomes more transparent and we can promote the good and hopefully phase out the bad.”