Whale Sharks are protected but in some areas of China the world’s largest fish are tuned into soup, fish oil and lipstick additives.
However, they have an increasing value if they are kept alive.
A group of researchers have now studied the impact this animal has on the economy of the island nation of the Maldives.
The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme reveals that a small group of whale sharks in a single Maldivian Atoll accounts for nearly 3% of the global shark ecotourism and nearly half that of the Maldives.
“The Republic of Maldives hosts one of few known year round aggregation sites for whale sharks,” says James Hancock, director of the research program.
“We have seen that they have become a major tourism draw to South Ari atoll but we didn’t expect these big numbers.”.
The South Ari atoll Marine Protected Area alone attracted 77,000 tourists in 2013. This equates to $9.4 millionin direct income to operators who offer the chance to glimpse this famous bucket list animal.
The research estimates annual shark related tourism expenditure in the Maldives is nearly $20 million.
Study co-author Fernando Cagua says;
“There are still many mysteries about these whale sharks – we don’t know why they come here or for how long they stay – but bringing the money issue to the table is an important step towards ensuring their conservation.”
This study, published in the journal PeerJ, highlights how the implementation of a management plan which safeguards this site would reduce the possible economic impact that would result from the sharks leaving the area due to stresses from the attention they receive.
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