Tags: Diving,  Economics 

Ecotourism: Dollars and Sense

grey-nurse-shark-omalley.jpgWith over 400 species of sharks inhabiting almost every aquatic ecosystem, divers and wildlife enthusiast are enjoying and paying good money to view sharks in their natural habitats. Operations to take tourists to view, dive or snorkel with sharks and rays are located across the globe.

A recent study found that shark tourism companies operate in 83 locations in 29 countries (Gallagher and Hammerschlag 2011).  Divers are very interested in seeing sharks alive and healthy in the ocean and are willing to pay a lot to see them (White 2008). In Fiji, Vianna et al. (2011) estimated that 78% of all divers visiting the country in 2010 engaged in shark-diving activities.

You can meet blue sharks and makos off the east coast of the United States, tiger sharks in the shallows of the Bahamas, hammerheads cruising through the Galapagos, whales sharks and mantas in Mexico, seven gill cow sharks in the kelp of California and Cape Town, great whites in the infinite visibility of Guadalupe, Mexico, or breaching off Seal Island in False Bay.

Shark-based tourism provides economic benefits in areas that can support sustainable tourism ventures with adequate infrastructure and relatively reliable shark sightings. The tourism operators collect direct revenue from the activity and some governments receive additional taxes through permit, entry or tag fees. In Fiji, direct taxes from shark divers in 2010 were approximately US$ 5.9 million (Vianna et al. 2011). 

There are also indirect economic impacts, or ‘economic multipliers’, benefits to the local economy through salaries paid and goods purchased (Orams 2002). For example, a tourist pays to stay at a local hotel, the hotel uses that money to pay for goods and services, which in turn serves as income for secondary and primary industries within a country. Tourists visiting Gansbaai, South Africa, to view great white sharks make up 50% of local business sales (Hara et al. 2003).

Shark-based tourism can also help regional communities through non-peak tourist seasons. On the Ningaloo coast of Australia, whale shark tours are an important source of income for these remote communities because they run on the off season (Jones et al. 2009). The impact of well managed shark-based tourism could provide significant economic benefits for the communities and countries that develop them.

The location and value of shark -based diving industries



Value (per year)




US$ 42.2 million

Vianna et al. 2011

Fr. Polynesia

Lemon shark

US$ 5.4 million

Clua et al. 2011



US$ 38.6 million

Martin et al. 2006



US$ 18 million

Vianna et al. 2012



US$ 4.5 million

Topelko and Dearden 2005


Whale Shark

US$ 4.99 million

Rowat and Engelhardt 2007

South Africa

Tiger Shark

US$ 1.7 million

Dicken and Hoskings 2009

South Africa

White Shark

US$ 4.2 million

Hara et al. 2003

West Australia

Whale Shark

US$ 5.5 million

Catlin et al. 2009

New Directions

MPO-WhaleShark-3014_small.jpgDonsol, a community in the Philippines, is now benefiting from growing tourism industries based on encounters with live whale sharks (Pine 2007). Tourism visitors to Donsol increased from 800 to 7,200 from 1998 to 2005, an increase related to the development of whale shark viewing ventures, and resulted in an income increase of more than US$ 180,000 (Norman and Catlin 2007).

Arevalo (2006) notes that revenues derived from tourism efforts (related to whale sharks) resulted in Donsol being elevated from a fifth class municipality (annual income of US$ 162,000 to a fourth class US$ 301,000-486,000), resulting in a shift from ranking 76th in the poverty line amongst the poorest municipalities of the region to a rank of 17th.

In addition, since 2002 more than 300 jobs have been created and in excess of 200 fishermen have gained seasonal employment as a result of whale shark ecotourism (Norman and Catlin 2007). “Eco-tourism has changed everyone's life in Donsol. Alan tells us how he used to have to take on odd jobs -- driving a tricycle taxi, construction work, playing guitar at bars -- to make ends meet. Now he makes six times what he used to, enough money to put his two children through school, even university”(Damon 2010).

In Gujarat, India, hunting whale sharks for their liver oil started in the mid-1950s and the trade expanded to include fins, cartilage, skin, and meat (Hanfee 2001). Concerns arose over the unregulated fishing and unmonitored trade of whale sharks, absence of detailed export information and the general vulnerability of whale sharks to overexploitation (Hanfee 2001).

The Whale Shark Campaign was developed, incorporating NGOs, Government, religious leaders, in a whale shark image overhaul. The species was given a new name Vhali, meaning ‘loved one’, a Whale Shark Day was declared celebrating the large fish in festivals and plays. The shark received national protection, the government increased efforts in scientific studies, and compensating fishermen that cut their nets to release whale sharks alive. Now, whale sharks are the flagship species to develop marine tourism in Gujarat.

References and Resources


Clua, E., Buray, N., Legendre, P., Mourier, J., Planes, S., 2011.  Business partner or simple catch? The economic value of the sicklefin lemon shark in French Polynesia. In: Marine and Freshwater Research, 2011, 62, 764-770.

Damon, A. 2010.  Swimming with sharks saves lives.  CNN June 7, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/06/04/eco.whale.shark/?hpt=C2

Dicken, M.L. and Hosking, S.G.  2009.  Socio-economic aspects of the tiger shark diving industry in the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area, South Africa.  African Journal of Marine Science, 31(2): 227-232.

Gallagher, A.J. and Hammerschlag, N.  2011.  Global shark currency: the distribution, frequency, and economic value of shark ecotourism.  Current Issues in Tourism, 1-16.

Graham, R.T. 2004. Global Whale Shark Tourism: A "Golden Goose" of Sustainable Lucrative Tourism. Shark News16, (October)

Hanfee, F. 2001. Gentle giants of the sea. TRAFFIC-India/WWF-India. 40 pp.

Hara, M., Maharaj, I., and Pithers, L.  2003.  Marine-based Tourism in Gansbaai: a socio-economic study.  The Department of Environmental Affairs Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape, South Africa, 56 pp.

Jones T, Wood D, Catlin J, Norman B (2009) Expenditure and ecotourism: predictors of expenditure for whale shark tour participants. Journal of Ecotourism 8(1): 32–50.

Martin, R.A. and Hakeem, A.A.A. 2006.  Development of a Sustainable Shark Diving Ecotourism Industry in the Maldives: Challenges and Opportunities.  Maldives Marine Research Bulletin, 8: 2-36.

Norman, B. and Catlin, J.  2007.  Economic importance of conserving whale sharks.  Report for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Australia.  1-18 pp.

Orams MB (2002) Humpback Whales in Tonga: An Economic Resource for Tourism. Coastal Management 30(4): 361–380.

Pine, R. 2007. Donsol: Whale shark tourism and coastal resource management, A Case Study of the Philippines. WWF-Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines. 41 pp.

Rowat D, and Engelhardt U. 2007. Seychelles: A case study of community involvement in the development of whale shark ecotourism and its socio-economic impact. Fisheries Research 84: 109–113.

Topelko, K.N., and Dearden, P.  2005.  The shark watching industry and its potential contribution to shark conservation.  Journal of Ecotourism, 4(2): 108-128.

Vianna, G., Meekan, M., Pannell, D., Marsh, S., Meeuwig, J. 2012.  Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations. Biological Conservation 145 (2012) 267-277.

White, L.  2008.  Sea the value: quantifying the value of marine life to divers.  Msc thesis, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. 

Further Reading

Anderson R.C. 1998. Sharks mean business. Scientific American Presents, 9(3): 72-73.

Anderson R.C. and Ahmed H. 1993. Shark fisheries of the Maldives. Ministry of Fisheries &

Agriculture, Maldives & FAO, Rome, 73pp.

Anderson, C. and Waheed, A.  2001.  The economics of shark and ray watching in the Maldives.  Shark News, 13.

Baske, A. 2008.  Can recreational diver surveys lead to conservation action? A case study of the Revillagigedo Archipelago.  MAS Capstone, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Coservation.

Bennett, M., P. Dearden and R.Rollins. 2002. The sustainability of dive tourism in Phuket, Thailand. In Communities in SE Asia: Challenge and Responses ed by H. Lansdowne, P.

Dearden and W.Neilson, University of Victoria, Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives pp 93-102.

Brunnschweiler, J. M. 2009.  The Shark Reef Marine Reserve: a marine tourism project in Fiji involving local communities.  Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1 1-14.

Chaudhary, R. G. Joshi, D., Mookerjee, A., Talwar V., and Menon, V. 2008. Turning the tide: the campaign to save Vhali, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) in Gujarat. Wildlife Trust of India, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh.

Coleman, N., Marsh, N., and Ritchie, R. 2003.  Diving Australia: A Guide to the Best Diving Down Under.  Tuttle Publishing, 348 pp.

Fowler, S.  2005.  The international and national frameworks for conservation and management of sharks: Recommendations for Ecuador.  Contribution to Ecuador’s Draft National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.  IUCN, Quito, Ecuador.  51 pp.

Hotchkin, T.  “Swimming with Sharks - Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Islands” http://ezinearticles.com/?-Swimming-with-Sharks---Scuba-Diving-in-the-Galapagos-Islands&id=3927495

Newman, H.E., and Medcraft, A.J.  1997.  Whale shark tagging and ecotourism.  Elasmobranch Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. Proceedings of the International Seminar and Workshop, Sabah, Malaysia.

Pine, R. 2007. Donsol: Whale shark tourism and coastal resource management, A Case Study of the Philippines. WWF-Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines. 41 pp.

Stacey, N.E., Karam, J., Meekan, M. G., Pickering, S., and Ninef, J.  2012.  Prospects for whale shark conservation in Eastern Indonesia through Bajo Traditional ecological knowledge and community-based monitoring.  Conservation and Society, 10(1): 63-75.

Stafford-Deitsch, J. 1999.  Red Sea Sharks.  Trident Press Ltd. p. 40



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