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New Study Values Madagascar Whale Shark Tourism at $1.5 Million Amid Calls for Stronger Protections

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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  • The three-month whale shark tourism season in Nosy Be (NW Madagascar) has been valued at $1.5 million USD 

  • Tourists who visit specifically to swim with whale sharks spend 55% more ($901,274) than ‘casual’ whale shark tourists ($581,239)

  • Calls for sustainable tourism measures to protect whale sharks are overwhelmingly supported by operators and tourists 

  • 67.4% of tourists are more likely to choose a destination if whale sharks are protected

Credit: Dr. Simon J. Pierce

Credit: Dr. Simon J. Pierce

A new study published in the journal Tourism in Marine Environments has valued the whale shark tourism industry in Madagascar’s Nosy Be for the first time, with the three-month season worth $1.5 million USD to the local economy.* The study has revealed the economic benefit that whale sharks provide as the region prepares for the return of tourists following COVID-19.

Stella Diamant, the project’s leader and research associate with the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), as well as the founder of the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, said, “this study has confirmed the importance of sustainable whale shark tourism to Madagascar’s economy, particularly during its pandemic recovery. 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.”

Credit: Madagascar Whale Shark Project

Credit: Madagascar Whale Shark Project

The study found that ‘dedicated’ whale shark divers – travelers who visited specifically to swim with whale sharks – spent six times as much as ‘casual’ whale shark tourists ($547 vs. $92 respectively). Despite making up just a fifth of respondents (20.5%), the expenditure of this group was worth 55% more overall ($901,274) than causal whale shark divers ($581,239).

Both tourists (93.4%) and operators (91.7%) overwhelmingly support formal protections for whale sharks in Madagascar.**

The majority (67.4%) of tourists stated they were more likely to choose a tourism destination if whale sharks were protected.

Despite being globally endangered, whale sharks are not formally protected in Malagasy waters and are threatened by fishery bycatch, collisions with vessels, and pollution. Tour operators overwhelmingly supported legal protection for whale sharks in Madagascar and highlighted the potential to introduce regulations to avoid overcrowding, as interest in swimming with the sharks grows internationally. Operators suggested levying fines or sanctions for anyone behaving irresponsibly around the sharks.

Credit: Dr. Simon J. Pierce

Credit: Dr. Simon J. Pierce

Dr. Jackie Ziegler from the University of Victoria in Canada and lead author of the study said, “it’s far more difficult to scale back activities compared to managing tourism sustainably from the start. 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 ecotourism 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.”

This study was led by the Madagascar Whale Shark Project in collaboration with the Marine Megafauna Foundation, University of Victoria, Marine Wildlife Conservation Society, and Florida International University. It was supported by MADA Megafauna, Aqua-Firma, Ocean Giants Trust, and the Vocatio Foundation.

For more information about the Marine Megafauna Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

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Madagascar Whale Shark Project unveils new project to empower conservationists to protect the ocean

Africa DTA Team

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The Madagascar Whale Shark Project is announcing a new way for ocean-lovers to support its efforts to protect endangered whale sharks. The project has launched a donation-based Patreon page to enable followers to support its vital work through a monthly subscription while benefitting from brilliant insights and exclusive content at the same time!

Stella Diamant, Founder of the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, took the initiative to set up the Patreon to share the knowledge she’s gathered from setting up her project so other scientists and conservationists can benefit. On the Patreon page, Stella and her team will open the doors of the project to share exclusive content and behind-the-scenes snippets for everyone that loves the ocean as well as advice for those progressing in their conservation careers. She’ll interview inspirational figures from her network of marine scientists and experts to find out about their epic ocean stories, expertise and fieldwork. Supporters will also have early access to trips, volunteering opportunities and even the chance to name a whale shark before anybody else!

Stella said: “When I set up the Madagascar Whale Shark Project, I learned how to set up a conservation not-for-profit simply by doing it. I felt there was a stark lack of information about the realities of working in the conservation sector and running a successful organisation. Lots of charities are happy to talk about their successes. But when it comes to the challenges, delays and frustrations, it’s often hard to find the truth about what it’s really like.”

She continued: “I don’t think it’s helpful – for individuals or the sector as a whole – if we’re only sharing what went well. That’s why I invest my time to empower other conservationists, particularly women and younger generations, to set up their own projects and share actionable advice. I also want to help people realise that you don’t have to be a marine biologist to make a difference. Marine conservation NGOs need lots of other skills: from marketing and photography to finance and project management.

I’ve set up this Patreon to give people the knowledge that will help them thrive in their conservation careers – whether or not they come from a science background. This kind of practical information is lacking on so many topics relevant to the conservation industry which means there’s a large knowledge gap in NGOs around the world. And, of course, we’re so grateful to everyone who joins for their support to keep our project thriving too.

Supporters can choose how deep to dive by selecting one of four levels:

  • Shallow (€3 per month): becoming part of a passionate community dedicated to protecting the ocean by making a regular monthly donation
  • Mid-water (€8 per month): for exclusive project updates, behind-the-scenes insights and a sneak peek into Stella’s monthly interviews with conservation experts
  • Deep (€15 per month): with monthly hour-long chats with the world’s leading conservation experts to benefit from their life-changing advice
  • Abyss (€150 per month): early access to trips and volunteering opportunities, one-to-one time with Stella and the chance to name a whale shark

When Stella saw her first ever whale shark in Nosy Be, Madagascar in 2014, no work had been undertaken to establish population size, trends or how they connect with other regional groups. So, Stella set up a project with tourism operators in the region to find out this important information. Since then, the project has identified over 400 individual whale sharks, published several peer-reviewed studies, implemented a code of conduct and initiated a local education programme. Now, she’ll be sharing her extensive expertise with other conservation professionals and ocean-lovers through the Patreon page.

For more information sign up here.

Banner Image: Stella Diamant

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Jeff chats to… Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation in Mozambique (Watch Video)

Jeff Goodman

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation – Mozambique.

Once ravaged by poachers, Ilha do Fogo is now the centre of conservation on the north-east coast of Mozambique. Soon, it will be opened up as an exclusive, luxury retreat, focused on scuba diving and eco-tourism. You can read our story on this HERE.

Find out more at www.fireislandconservation.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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