The Blog Aquatic » ecotourism http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:48:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The Real-Life Shark Tank: Why Saving Sharks is a Good Investment http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/14/the-real-life-shark-tank-why-saving-sharks-is-a-good-investment/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/14/the-real-life-shark-tank-why-saving-sharks-is-a-good-investment/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 21:54:10 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7811

I may be an ocean advocate, but I have been terrified of sharks for my entire life. So, on a recent trip to Hawaii, I decided to finally confront my fear and signed up for an ecotourism shark cage dive. When I gathered the courage to lower myself into the cage, I immediately came face to face with a large Galapagos shark and was shocked by the sense that an intelligent being was looking back.

Its movements were smooth and graceful as it glided tranquilly past; its gray, sleek body standing in beautiful contrast against the cobalt blue water as I began a tremendous discovery process that would change my view on sharks forever. After such a personal experience, I came home needing to learn more about these animals I’d feared for my entire life. What I discovered was that not only were sharks in trouble, but surprisingly that their disappearance would deliver a serious cost to us as well.

Scientists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year. What makes matters worse is that one-third of all threatened sharks are subjected to targeted fishing. This targeted fishing usually happens for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. In this process, fishermen catch sharks and cut off their fins, often while they are still alive. Afterward, they throw the animals back into the ocean, where they slowly succumb to their injuries. In fact, in addition to targeted fishing, habitat loss, persecution and climate change are all threats to sharks.

As a byproduct of all these activities, an estimated 25 percent of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction, according to a recent scientific report. Like large predators on land, sharks affect all species below them by keeping populations and the food web in balance. Sharks are an essential player in the ocean ecosystem. Restoring drastically reduced populations could take decades for many shark species, because sharks generally grow slowly, mature late and produce few young over their long lifetimes.

The destruction of shark populations creates not just environmental degradation, but also economic cost. Shark ecotourism generates $314 million each year, a figure that is expected to rise to $780 million in the near future. Meanwhile, the landed value of global shark fisheries is estimated at $630 million per year, a figure that has been declining for a decade. In fact, according to a study by the University of Miami, a shark is worth about $73 a day alive, but a set of fins for shark fin soup is only worth an average one-time payout of $50.

In addition to the economic benefits though, shark ecotourism also allows people to form perceptions of sharks for themselves. By observing sharks in their natural habitat through scuba diving, snorkeling, cage diving and boat tours in a sustainable manner, people are able to see the natural beauty of these creatures. Of course, there are good and bad shark tourism operations, but if these companies genuinely work to minimize their impact on the environment, these dives can promote conservation through the educational experience.

“Only after seeing people’s reactions did I see what effect it had,” said Stefanie Brendl, owner of Hawaii Shark Encounters, a company that organizes shark diving tours. When people get in the cage, participants are generally fearful of sharks or just out looking for a thrill. When they get out, they have a newfound understanding and appreciation of sharks.

So many are afraid of sharks, when they should really be afraid of what will happen if they’re gone. If you’re wondering where you can start, I’d suggest participating in conservation-minded shark ecotourism by patronizing companies that minimize interference with the behavior of sharks. This way, you can discover these majestic sea animals for yourself like I did.

From there though, we need to take action. You should make a point to stop eating shark fin soup if you do, and restaurants should be encouraged to remove it from the menus to provide the pressure needed to halt this practice. People should also research the seafood that they eat and avoid eating fish from fisheries with a high rate of shark bycatch. Doing so may not solve the problem entirely, but it will significantly cut down on the threats to sharks.

The truth is it doesn’t matter if the context is environmental or economic; the world just can’t afford to lose 100 million sharks a year. It’s time to make a good investment: saving sharks.

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Can 500 Underwater Statues Help The Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/23/can-500-underwater-statues-help-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/23/can-500-underwater-statues-help-the-ocean/#comments Thu, 23 Aug 2012 18:23:15 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2484

Underwater statues are fun to look at, but can they really function as an artificial reef? Credit: Jim Bahn flickr stream

Two of my favorite pastimes are visiting art museums and exploring new underwater habitats. But combining the two can be environmentally risky. That’s why there are a couple of things that concern me about Jason deCaires Taylor’s project in Cancun, Mexico, that has placed 500 statues as an underwater tourist attraction. Here are a couple questions I asked myself after hearing about the site.

1. How does it help ocean health?

The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, mentions that his statues at Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) are being covered with coral and algae, but this does not necessarily mean his statues are helping the ocean. When implementing artificial reefs, the placement of human-made structures onto the seafloor, you need to have biological goals in place. This ensures that your artificial reef, or 500 statues in this case, contains organisms that can co-exist in a way that mimics the natural food web over time instead of throwing it out of balance.

2. Are the statues secure?

Artificial reefs can unintentionally damage surrounding sensitive marine habitats during storms. In the U.S., strong storms can move old, sunken naval ships across the seafloor, creating deep scour depressions and plowing through live bottom habitat. Mr. Taylor’s work has been damaged by storms and part of it collapsed. What happened to those collapsed pieces? Did they move or, worse, damage a nearby sensitive habitat? Without proper monitoring, you won’t know if you’re making progress towards your biological goals or if you’ve accidently damaged nearby habitats.

3. What is the conservation goal, and is it actually being fulfilled?

Currently, about 750,000 people visit MUSA annually. Mr. Taylor states that his exhibit serves as a conservation effort by drawing divers and snorkelers away from the Mesoamerican Reef. This is Mr. Taylor’s assumption since there’s no mention of monitoring or surveys to gauge if visitors are linking their visit to his statues with a visit to the Mesoamerican Reef. Without some type of monitoring, it is difficult, if not impossible, to say with certainty that few of MUSA’s visitors are swimming in the Mesoamerican Reef. MUSA could even be drawing more people to the Mesoamerican Reef.

Artificial reefs must have carefully thought-out objectives over a long timespan and be designed appropriately to achieve those objective. Additionally, there must be monitoring in place to measure progress towards the set of objectives. Otherwise, artificial reefs could inadvertently further damage the ocean that we love.

The main threats affecting the Mesoamerican Reef are climate change, fishing, shipping traffic of oil tankers, pollution from municipal waste contamination, sedimentation from inland deforestation, agricultural runoff, growing coastal development, tourism and aquaculture.

I think tourism will continue to grow in the Mesoamerican Reef, which is why our business choices are extremely important. Tourists can reduce impacts to the reef by supporting environmentally friendly businesses. This requires doing your research, which can be time consuming, but very rewarding when you’re helping the ocean you love. Check out these resources to get you started in planning an ocean-friendly exploration to the Mesoamerican Reef:

Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance

Sustainable Travel & Ecotourism in Mexico at Frommer’s

Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an (CE SiaK)

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Dreaming of Swimming with Sharks? Start with “the Domino” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 19:35:46 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2309

High on my bucket list: a swim with sharks. And if I’m going to be up-close-and-personal, my first pick is to be introduced to the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark.

Nicknamed “dominoes,” these guys may grow to more than 65 feet over their long lives. To give you some perspective, recall the feeling you get standing next to the bulk of a school bus, typically less than 40 feet long. Now imagine being in the water with a whale shark. I’m thinking the wow factor is huge, especially after viewing this video.

The IUCN lists these gentle giants as “vulnerable.” Long sought after for their fins, (finnning has caused many shark populations to plummet), the good news is that whale sharks are now a growing draw for tourists. And there’s quite an emphasis on responsible practices when it comes to tours that offer swimming with whale sharks.

Hopefully, increasing awareness and appreciation of both their role in the sea and their ecotourism value for many coastal communities will give a new meaning to the term “domino effect,” and these beauties will thrive long into the future rather than facing a cascading population decline from finning and other threats in their ocean home.

I have to admit that I’m attracted by the fact that they’re slow-moving in a dreamy sort of way. And that they live in beautiful warm waters like Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Besides, who can resist meeting a critter with polka dots? I think I’ll be moving this item up on my bucket list.

Video found on Sensory Ecology.

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