Shark Diving and Conservation
Shark diving is very popular amongst divers, a chance to get up close and personal with some of the world's most amazing ocean predators, but some people have concerns that baited dives can impact natural shark behaviour. Kathryn Curzon of Liveaboards.com explains how shark diving can be done responsibly and with minimal impact on the sharks, how it can be a valuable conservation tool, and how to find the most operators that take their responsibilities seriously.
Contribution to Conservation
Marine Reserve Fees Support Conservation Initiatives: Some of the best shark dives in the world are within marine reserves and visitors support these reserves directly by diving there and paying marine park fees. Marine reserves help protect fisheries, coral reefs, and ocean biodiversity from the impact of human activities and climate change, plus they provide unique study environments. Marine-park fees are often used to educate communities and tourists about issues such as sustainable fishing and shark conservation, whilst also providing local subsidies to preserve reefs.
Conservation Education Tool: Shark dive operators and crew are usually passionate about their work and make the most of the opportunity to educate guests from around the world about the plight of sharks and shark conservation. The combination of guests seeing a shark in the water and then learning about the plight of sharks and ways to help conserve them is a powerful catalyst for change. It can, and often does, result in people returning home to share their positive experiences with others, and then taking action to promote or support shark conservation.
Supports Local Communities: Other benefits of shark diving are the opportunities the industry brings to local communities. Shark diving tourism is estimated to be worth more than AU$25.5 million annually to Australia’s economy, while shark diving in Fiji is worth US$42.2 million annually as of 2012. The Bahamas, a popular destination for diving with tiger sharks and hamerheads, receives US$113.8 million each year from shark diving activities. Shark diving is a valuable industry and is particularly important to remote communities where it can create local opportunities for employment such as local dive guides, hotel and restaurant staff, and a range of other tourist-related activities. Having local communities appreciate that sharks are a much more valuable economic asset alive, rather than dead, provides a strong incentive for communities to protect their shark populations.
Choosing an Operator
As with choosing any diving operator, one of the first things to look for when considering choices is customer reviews for the vessel. A series of positive reviews is a great starting point to see if an operator is responsible and committed to offering the best experience. Those operators with good reviews and service are also likely to use best practices when conducting shark dives. Dive forums are another great way to find out more about different operators and ask for recommendations for eco-conscious vessels.
Responsible shark diving operators can take precautions to minimise the chances of their dives affecting sharks behaviour, such as minimising the use of bait and chum wherever possible, and ensuring the sharks are treated with respect and consideration during the dives. If it isn’t clear from their website what their operating procedures are, speak up and ask what their baiting and dives involve, and what they do to contribute to shark conservation. Most operators will be proud to share their knowledge and their environmental credentials.
MV Horizon offers Guadalupe liveaboard diving with great white sharks and is a great example of an operator doing all they can to promote shark conservation to guests and protect the environment. They spend time discussing shark conservation with their guests during each safari, offset 100% of their diesel fuel in a carbon offset programme, collect trash at sea, contribute to environmental research, and review their environmental policy each year. They are one of a number of dives operators working hard to minimise their impact on the environment and preserve sharks for future generations.
Best Places to go Shark Diving
Divers can experience shark diving at numerous locations; offering different dive styles and landscapes, a variety of shark species, and the opportunity to dive with sharks at different times of the year. There are shark dives suitable for experienced and novice divers, plus some shark experiences suitable for snorkelers.
The Galápagos Islands are known for Galápagos sharks, large schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, whitetip reef sharks and whale sharks. The diving is best suited to experienced divers due to the currents and dive conditions.
French Polynesia is a good destination to experience large numbers of grey reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, plus blacktip sharks, silky sharks, occasional tiger sharks and silvertip sharks. The diving is best suited to experienced divers due to the swift currents.
Schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks are the main attraction at Cocos Island, though divers can also see blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. The Bat Islands are the place to visit to experience bull shark diving. Whilst Costa Rica diving can be challenging, there are some opportunities for diving as an open water diver.
Malpelo Island, Panama
Malpelo Island is less well-known than Cocos Island and the Galápagos but it offers equally good shark diving; with numerous hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, Galápagos sharks, whale sharks and whitetip reef sharks. The strong currents and ocean conditions make this destination more suited to experienced divers.
The Solomon Islands
Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands is known for its variety of sharks and offers the chance to dive with grey reef sharks, blacktip sharks and whitetip sharks. Solomon Islands diving is suitable for all dive experience levels as operators are typically flexible to their guests’ requirements.
Tiger Beach is good for tiger shark diving and divers can also see great hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, lemon sharks and Caribbean reef sharks there. Scuba diving in the Bahamas is suitable for all experience levels.
Fiji is home to numerous sharks including bull sharks, tiger sharks, whitetip reef and blacktip reef sharks. There are dive sites suitable for all experience levels.
Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Great white shark diving at Guadalupe Island is synonymous with Shark Week and this unique experience is suitable for divers and non-divers alike.
Djibouti is relatively new on the scuba diving map and yet is it a great place to experience snorkelling with whale sharks and to enjoy Red Sea reef diving at quiet dive sites. The diving is suitable for Open Water divers or equivalent.
Monad Shoal at Malapascua is the best place in the world for diving with thresher sharks and is suitable for Advanced Open Water divers or equivalent
This article was written by Kathryn Curzon, a diver and writer at LiveAboard.com.