Calls for Madagascar Whale Shark Protection After Study's $1.5Million Valuation
The whale shark tourism industry in Madagasacar's Nosy Be is worth at least $1.5 million to the local economy during its three month season, according to a new study published in the journal Tourism in Marine Environments.
Led by Stella Diamant, Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) research assistant and founder of the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, the study has revealed the economic benefit that living whale sharks can provide, as the region prepares for the return of tourists following the Covid-19 pandemic.
'This study has confirmed the importance of sustainable whale shark tourism to Madagascar’s economy, particularly during its pandemic recovery,' said Diamant. 'Considering the region’s international reputation as a whale shark hotspot, and the presence of an international airport, it’s likely that its shark tourism industry will grow considerably once international travel resumes.'
The study found that dedicated whale shark divers – travellers who visited specifically to swim with whale sharks – spent six times as much ($547 per person) as casual whale shark tourists ($92 per person). Despite making up just a fifth of the study's respondents, the dedicated whale shark tourism group was worth some 55 per cent more than casual whale shark divers, spending a combined total of $901,274 during the season, compared to the $581,239 spent by casual tourists.
Despite being globally endangered, whale sharks are not formally protected in Malagasy waters and are threatened by fishery bycatch, collisions with vessels, and pollution. te study reported that an overwhelming 93.4 per cent of tourists to Madagascar and 91.7 per cent of its tour operators support legal protection for whale sharks in Madagascar. A 67.4 per cent majority of tourists also said that would be more likely to choose a tourism destination based on the protection it afforded to whale sharks.
The study also highlights the potential need for regulations to be introduced to avoid overcrowding the whale sharks. Some operators suggested levying fines or sanctions for those found to be behaving irresponsibly around the sharks.
'It’s far more difficult to scale back activities compared to managing tourism sustainably from the start,' said lead author Dr Jackie Ziegler, from Canada's University of Victoria. 'Our work has shown clear support from both tourism operators and the tourists themselves, to ensure that swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is a world-class eco-tourism experience.'
MMF Principal Scientist Dr Simon Pierce added, 'Madagascar is best-known now for its amazing land animals, such as lemurs and chameleons, but the marine wildlife is equally spectacular. It’s fantastic to see that Nosy Be tourism operators are committed to protecting these gentle giants as well as high-quality ecotourism.'
The complete study 'Economic Value and Public Perceptions of Whale Shark Tourism in Nosy Be, Madagascar' by Jackie Ziegler et al, is available in Tourism in Marine Environments, Volume 16, Number 3, 2021, pp. 167-182(16) DOI: https://doi.org/10.3727/154427321X16223819324721