On the average adventurer’s bucket list, you can expect to find a few things: Bungee jumping, sky diving and—of course—swimming with sharks. While this last activity may sound frustrating for the sharks, in fact it may be good for their health. Shark ecotourism is not only a fast-growing industry—and yes, you can call it an industry—but it could also offer an economic incentive to curb the horrific practice of shark finning, according to a study published last week in Oryx – The International Journal of Conservation.
Earlier this year, Joe Chernov and Robin Richards released a shocking infographic showing that humans kill 11,417 sharks per hour. In large part, this death toll is due to the brutal practice of shark finning used to obtain cartilage for shark fin soup. This dish is highly prized in some Asian countries and sells for around $18 per bowl.
While the shark fisheries business accounts for around $630 million of annual revenue, it has been in decline in the last 10 to 15 years. Shark ecotourism, on the other hand, accounts for $314 million in revenue and is expected to grow quickly.
"That figure is projected to double to over $700 million per year within the next 20 years," lead author Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, a Ph.D. candidate in the fisheries economics research unit at the University of British Columbia, told LiveScience.
The numbers were based on data from 70 sites in 45 countries and offer compelling evidence that shark conservation could provide more of an economic boost than slaughtering them.
Cisneros-Montemayor also pointed out an additional reason why conservation is critical: Sharks help maintain the delicate balance within the ocean ecosystem.
"Studies have found that if you remove top predators, like sharks, you change the structure of the ecosystem itself," Cisneros-Montemayor told Live Science. "This puts you in danger of all kinds of bad things happening."
For instance, sharks help keep the ocean’s food web in balance by eating aging or slower populations of fish. This regulates all species below the shark on the food chain, making sure certain fish don’t become too populous or overfeed on their prey.
So, adventurers, put your money where your mouth is and schedule your trip to one of these amazing ecotourism destinations.