The number of people looking to get up close and personal with sharks is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years. At current shark tourism generates around £206 million and those figures are expected to reach £512 million by 2023, according to a study in The International Journal of Conservation.
The news has been welcomed by conservationists, as the increase in shark tourism has led to a decline in sharks being caught for food. South Africa, the USA and Australia currently dominate the shark tourism industry, but smaller countries have begun to catch on to the trend.
Locations in Palau, the Maldives, the Bahamas and Honduras have all introduced bans on commercial shark fishing in recent years, Tokelau, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia and French Polynesia have also introduced the ban.
Shark ecotourism currently draws in around 600,000 people each year, looking to watch the feared fish. "Many countries have a significant financial incentive to conserve sharks and the places where they live," said Jill Hepp, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The study also revealed that the shark tourism industry has created almost 10,000 jobs in 83 locations in 29 different countries. However, the research also highlighted the urgency to create better protection for sharks, with many countries still catching fish for shark fin soup, particularly in China.
“Fishermen need to see a higher value from organising tourism - such as running boat trips to view sharks or renting scuba gear - than from killing them for fins,” commented Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the global marine programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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