Is shark diving good for conservation?

Conservation and Shark Diving are often seen as opposites and not compatible. Let’s look at some of the concerns raised and see how valid they are.

The biggest issue a lot of people have with shark diving and specifically feeding dives is that “It conditions sharks to associate people and divers with food!” While it does indeed condition sharks to associate divers with food, it definitely doesn’t condition those sharks to associate divers AS food. The sharks at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve are being fed 5 days a week and I dove on a non feeding day. I got to about 45 ft when a few Bull Sharks sharks approached me, clearly looking for food. After they swam around me for a little bit, they realized that I didn’t bring any food and they left. At no point did they show any indication that they looked at me as food or made any attempt to bite me. I actually think that being around divers at feeding sites makes the sharks less likely to attack. If I would be approached by a bunch of Bull Sharks at a non feeding site, I would be a lot more concerned, since it is unusual for them to approach divers without being attracted by some kind of food or chum source.

Another argument against feeding sharks is that it alters their feeding and migration behavior. Since I’m not a scientist that has studied this issue,  my experience comes from observing and diving with sharks, I defer to those who actually studied this issue. There are a few good papers out that are addressing this.

This one is from 2013 by Juerg Brunnschweiler and Adam Barnett: https://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2013/03/feeding-bull-sharks-in-fiji-paper.html 

Or this one: http://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2010/06/does-shark-feeding-influence-shark.html 

Essentially they are saying that it has no real impact on their migration and hunting behavior. Click on the links above for more detailed information.

OK, so if shark feeding is not as bad as people think, is it actually good for conservation? While there are certainly some outfits that don’t have conservation in mind when they do their shark dives, there are also responsible operators who care deeply about conservation and who have accomplished some amazing things.

We all know about the problem associated with the overfishing of sharks. If we want to protect sharks, we have to find a way for the shark fishermen to make a living doing something else.When we argue that a  shark alive is worth hundreds of times the amount of a dead shark, we have to make sure that a living shark is worth more to the fishermen as well and not just to the tourism industry.

This is what Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) has accomplished in Fiji. They
got a fishing village to agree to not fish on a reef in exchange for
a fee paid by all the divers. “They also hired people from
fishing villages and trained them to be Divemasters, Instructors and Boat
Captains. When they started diving at that reef, an initial fish count netted about 280 different species of fish, which for the south pacific is very dismal. Ten years later, another fish count showed over 480 different species. The number of sharks seen at the feeds also increased from a handful to sometimes over 100.

The efforts of BAD has resulted in the reef the shark dive takes place on being declared a national underwater marine park, the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. To my knowledge this is the first time a private entity managed to create a national park. Not only does the fishing village continue to receive money from the divers, which they use for educating their children, creating opportunities outside of fishing for them, but the ones who are still fishing now catch more fish outside of the reserve than they ever caught in and outside. This is clearly a win win situation, where the sharks, the divers and the fishermen all profit.

So clearly, operating a shark feeding dive has benefited not only the sharks, but the reef as a whole. Shark Diver is proud to support BAD by taking a group of divers to dive with them every year. This year, sadly we are not able to go there due to the covid closures, but we are looking forward to go back as soon as Fiji opens up again.

Here is a little video of what you can expect to see on your trip.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/W5EULzXoOPU?feature=player_embedded 

Let’s go Shark Diving!

Cheers,

Martin Graf

About Shark Diver.

As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives, Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at staff@sharkdiver.com.