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

World Wildlife Fund and Shark Tourism

Interesting news from the WWF this morning. Conservation NGO's are beginning to subscribe to the concept that shark tourism acts as a bridge to shark conservation:

WWF flags shark watching expeditions to protect species

Conservation group WWF says some of Queensland's shark species are on the verge of being listed as endangered.

Spokesman Nick Heath says there are concerns for tiger sharks which he believes are being wiped out by the State Government's shark safety program and many reef species that are targeted by fishers.

He says if tourism operators charged people to see them in the wild like whale watching expeditions, more of an effort would be made to protect them. "The more we learn the more we realise how vulnerable they are to overfishing," he said.

"We should actually be protecting them because more and more people around the world are becoming interested in seeing sharks and I think that all over the world they're becoming so endangered we should make sure that people can pay big money to come from all over the world to see them."