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
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.”
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.
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.
New from Diverse Travel – St Helena
Dive holiday experts Diverse Travel have added the destination of St Helena to their programme.
St Helena is one of the remotest inhabited islands and most exciting dive destinations worldwide. A subtropical paradise nestled deep in the South Atlantic Ocean, this tiny island – just ten by five miles and with a population less than 4,500 – is quite literally a world away from anywhere else.
St Helena’s geographical isolation makes for an exceptional ecosystem. This is one of Earth’s finest natural playgrounds, packed with mountainous peaks and trails, hundreds of endemic wildlife species, and a globally significant ancient cloud forest.
Underwater, St Helena is equally blessed, and her crystal-clear warm waters boast an outstanding diversity of habitats and life. Shaped by ancient volcanic activity, the dramatic underwater landscape is characterised by rocky caves, arches, sea mounts and reef structures that host abundant marine life. Over 700 marine species have been spotted here, at least 50 of them are endemic to the island’s surrounding waters, including the so-called ‘Cunning Fish’ otherwise known as the St Helena Butterfly Fish. Sightings of dolphins, Humpback Whales, Devil Rays and turtles are also commonplace here.
Between December and April, Whale Sharks migrate to St Helena in large aggregations. The island is the only destination worldwide where male and female Whale Sharks are seen in such large, equal numbers. If snorkelling with Whale Sharks is on your must-do list, then St Helena is simply one of the best spots in the world to experience this.
St Helena’s crystalline waters are also the perfect frame for the island’s eight exciting wreck dives that tell stories of tragedy, loss and treasure across 400 years or more of history. From Jacques Cousteau favourite the Witte Leeuw to the war grave of the Darkdale, there is plenty to explore.
Above water, St Helena is also a treasure trove. The island is well-known as the place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, and history buffs will enjoy exploring its fascinating past in a legacy of fortifications, historic buildings and remains. St Helena is pristine and untouched by mass tourism, making hiking and outdoor pursuits here simply spectacular.
Diverse Travel Product Manager Phillip Connor says:
“St Helena is a really exciting destination for all lovers of the natural world. The island is positively brimming with opportunities for adventure above and below the water. St Helena is full of untapped potential as a dive and holiday destination and we are incredibly excited to share it with our guests.”
Tailormade dive holiday packages to St Helena start from £2845pp (March 2023) and include return flights London to St Helena via Johannesburg (one piece checked baggage), an overnight stay in Johannesburg, return Airlink flights to St Helena, hotel transfers, 7 nights at the historic Mantis St Helena hotel, Jamestown in a double / twin room including breakfast, 5 days of two tank dives with boat trips, tanks and weights, a Whale Shark experience snorkelling trip, plus ATOL and full financial protection as standard. Owing to connecting flights, St Helena is ideally twinned with South Africa. Why not experience the spectacular diving, wildlife and culture in both countries on a trip of a lifetime?
Visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/diving-holiday-destinations/st-helena-diving-holidays for more information about St Helena.
Header Image: Beth Taylor
Madagascar Whale Shark Project unveils new project to empower conservationists to protect the ocean
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