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.“
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). Some shark dive operations assure close encounter viewing by baiting or hand feeding sharks. While wildlife feedings strike some as controversial, several studies indicate no long-term behavior change on the part of fed sharks. However these studies were based on dive operators who employed rigorous, well-choreographed best practices that ensure both the safety of clients as well as that of the sharks. “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.“
Sustainable Shark Diving will launch in December 2015 and is being previewed November 4-7 at the 2015 DEMA Show in Orlando, Florida.
ABOUT RICK MACPHERSON, FOUNDER
Rick MacPherson is a marine ecologist and conservationist with three decades of experience in solving environmental challenges. He has a particular focus and interest in the intersection of conservation and marine tourism. As a PADI certified diver for over 35 years, he has witnessed the decline of coral reefs and shark populations during his lifetime. In response, MacPherson has become a passionate advocate and thought leader on the role of sustainable tourism as a lever for ocean conservation. Achievements have included development of the world’s first standards for scuba diving, snorkeling, and boating; designer of the Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Marine Tours for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and founder of the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative–the longest-running sustainable tourism project in the Americas. With a belief and expertise in collaborative solutions, MacPherson has brokered partnerships across governments, corporations, NGOs, private sector, and local communities to arrive at pragmatic solutions to complex environmental problems. He is Founder and Principal of Pelagia Consulting, a San Francisco-based ocean science and conservation think tank, where he serves as senior advisor to international NGOs and charitable foundations. In 2013, MacPherson was awarded the Oris/Scuba Diving Magazine Sea Hero of the Year Award in recognition of his achievements in ocean conservation.