A study released by researchers in Australia, which has been rapidly disseminated via Caribbean media, shows that a single reef shark can be worth nearly two million dollars in tourism revenue over its lifetime.
Lead author Mark Meekan, a scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, says, “Sharks can literally be a ‘million-dollar’ species and a significant economic driver. Our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target.”
Sharks have reigned at the top of the ocean food chain for hundreds of millions of years. But because they mature slowly and produce few offspring, the consummate marine predators have proven vulnerable to industrial-scale fishing.
Tens of millions of the coastal and open-water sharks are harvested every year to supply a burgeoning appetite for meat and especially shark-fin soup. The researchers found that the annual value to the Palau tourism industry of an individual reef shark at one of the country’s major scuba-diving sites is 179,000 dollars (121,000 euros) a year, or about 1.9 million dollars (1.3 million euros) over the animal’s lifetime. Shark diving accounts for about eight percent of the tiny country’s GDP and 14 percent of its business tax base. It also generates more than a million dollars annually in salaries.
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. The US state of Hawaii, the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have all banned the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins.
Matt Rand, a shark expert at the Washington-based Pew Environment Group, which commissioned the research, states that “This study provides a compelling case that can convince more countries to embrace these animals for their benefit to the ocean and their value to a country’s financial well-being.”
Sharks are an important part of the economic value of the ecosystem, because they are the natural predators of the ocean. Regional studies have shown that when shark populations crash the impact cascades down through the food chain, often in unpredictable and deleterious ways.
For article in Spanish, see http://www.el-nacional.com/www/site/p_contenido.php?q=nodo/204208/BBC%20Mundo/Los-tiburones-valen-m%C3%A1s-vivos-que-muertos; for article in English, see http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110502/sc_afp/environmentfishspeciessharkstourism