Wildlife tourism is growing in popularity, including white shark cage diving, but these industries remain fiercely controversial among tourists, conservatives and scientists alike.
Many have expressed concerns about the potential negative impacts – particularly when targeting potentially dangerous animals – while proponents cite the social and economic benefits to justify wildlife tourism activities.
In fact, wildlife tourism is complex, and it requires managers to weigh the benefits and drawbacks to determine what is acceptable for such industries.
To help solve the question “Is wildlife tourism good or bad?” , A tool was created to help managers evaluate these industries by scientists from Flinders University, Georgia Aquarium and Southern Cross University with assistance from ecological and marine parks, tourism directors from the South Australian Department of Environment and Water, and a veterinarian / university animal welfare officer
The resulting framework, published in Conservation Letters, uses 26 factors to assess the industry’s traceability, socio-economic values and their impacts on conservation, animal welfare, and ecosystem impacts, says research lead Dr. Lauren Meyer, of the Flinders University Southern Shark Ecology Group and Georgia Aquarium.
Combining these five distinct categories into one framework enables a more comprehensive assessment, combining the various pros and cons typical of the wildlife tourism industries.
“The latest study provides a list of relevant factors that include a range of different industry sectors, current knowledge, and research needs,” says Charlie Huveners, co-author and associate professor at Flinders.
To put the new framework to the test, the authors applied it to the white shark cage diving industry on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Here, three operating companies host up to 10,000 travelers and generate about $ 8 million annually.
The industry is well regulated with restrictions on the number of licenses, the days they can operate, and the amount of attractant they can use.
Recent research by Dr. Mayer found that while a food-dependent attractant (bait and berries) had no effect on the diet of white sharks (they still swim around eating elements of their natural prey), it could affect the diet of the fish. And the rays that live in these marine areas. carrots.
The framework also made it possible to compare the costs and benefits of white sharks versus other fish and rays, reveal the full acceptability of the industry and identify key areas for improvement.
The results indicate that while public opinion differs toward white shark cage diving, contributing to public education, public awareness and scientific research, Dr. Mayer says.
“Conservation outcomes for both target and non-target species are high, given the conservation status of the Neptune Island Group Marine Park Conservation Area where the industry operates,” she says.
Not surprisingly, the industry offers significant regional economic benefits, but while the impacts on the white shark have been well managed, the welfare of the fish and rays has been identified as requiring more attention.
Professor Charlie Huveners, who has studied shark behavior and habitat for more than 10 years, including white sharks, says the new framework demonstrates how effective collaboration between scientists, managers and the industry will help reduce negative impacts on white sharks, but also highlights areas That could be improved further.
Specifically, the framework identified key priorities for future biological, social, economic and cultural heritage research, ensuring comprehensive management of a divisive industry.
The article, “A Multidisciplinary Framework for Assessing the Sustainability and Acceptability of Wildlife Tourism Operations” (2021) by L Meyer, K Apps, S Bryars, T Clarke, B Hayden, G Pelton, B Simes, LM Vaughan, SK Whitmarsh, and C Huveneers, Posted it on Conversation messages (Wiley) DOI: 10.1111 / conl.12788 The Society for Conservation Biology (wiley.com)
The researchers thank the cage diving industry for ongoing assistance, industry management support, and commitment to the conversation.