Sunday, 24 March 2013

Australia’s shark tourism leads way in science and conservation

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WhaleShark snorkellerNingaloo provides the oldest, most researched shark site in the world which Dr Techera says makes a powerful case study for shark tourism globally. Image: DtravellerAUSTRALIA is leading the world in regulating shark based tourism according to new research.

A study of the law and policy governing two shark tourism ventures has been conducted by UWA and Macquarie University.

The study examined the legal and management frameworks currently in place as well as economic and environmental aspects of snorkelling with whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) in Ningaloo and diving with great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in South Australia's Neptune Islands.

Western Australia was identified as having some of the best regulation in the world because it is focused specifically on the species in question; whale sharks. It has also been developed over many years alongside scientific research.

“Both law and policy has been informed by science,” UWA’s Dr Erika Techera says.

“The challenge for the future will be to continue to monitor the effects of tourism and review the law if necessary.”

Shark based tourism is established in 40 countries and offers opportunities for conservation but is not without risk to people, animals and the environment.

Globally, a number of shark species are threatened and legal mechanisms at national and international levels are being developed.

“We need to identify best practice legal regulation to facilitate sustainable growth in the industry, whilst ensuring protection,” Dr Techera says.

Both sites studied have a well developed regulatory framework and Ningaloo provides the oldest, most researched shark site in the world which Dr Techera says makes a powerful case study for shark tourism globally.

To date there has been little analysis of existing laws and this new research aims to fill that gap.

“It’s surprising that so few lawyers have explored this area of marine-based tourism compared to other areas such as whale watching,” she says.

The study also found shark based tourism is a growth industry and is now an important management tool for marine conservation globally.

“Other countries must ensure legal regulations are tailored to the needs of shark tourism and that they embed scientific knowledge where it is available,” Dr Techera says.

“If there's a gap in scientific data, then more research is needed.”

Both whale sharks and great white sharks are migratory, spending only limited time in Australian waters so it is important that regulation is matched in neighbouring countries.

“This makes developing a harmonised regime for shark tourism challenging,” she says.  

While greater standardisation of laws is recommended, Australia is providing best practice for other countries interested in developing shark based tourism.

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