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.
St Helena National Trust launch Whale Shark ID App
Whale sharks are found in tropical oceans all over the world. In St Helena’s Island’s Marine Protected Area, (nearly the size of France), the Whale sharks – locally known as Bone sharks, are the only known population where an almost equal number of both mature male and female sharks come to feed and recuperate.
As part of the St Helena National Trust’s annual bone shark research, the Marine Team documents and observes behavioural encounters of individual bone sharks throughout the season. The data collected over time, together with historical island data, creates a clearer picture of how many sharks migrate to the island every year, when and where they visit, and just maybe… to discover if they come here to breed.
Over the years, it has increasingly became evident that one of the island’s premium tourism attractions is the Bone Shark, and Trust Marine Team has been progressing a number of initiatives which are focused on promoting the Island as the No.1 destination for both research and visitor experience in relation to these “gentle giants”.
“With St Helena’s Fibre Optic Cable Project advancing, new technology being introduced and the majority of the population owning a mobile phone, our island has started a new digital age and because of this, we are so proud to be able to launch our brand new, ‘St Helena Whale shark ID App’” says Marine Research Coordinator, Kenickie Andrews.
In collaboration with app designers, CRITTER, (funded by Blue Marine Foundation and Enterprise St Helena) the Trust Marine Team has been working this mobile app for over a year. Found both on Apple App store and Google Play store, the new, free app allows anyone to submit their bone shark sightings and encounters to the Trust, contributing to an important effort to further understand these secretive and endangered marine species.
“Our app enables not just the Marine Team, but, also our local citizen scientists, enthusiasts, visiting tourist and members of the public to contribute to local bone shark encounter data, track individual sightings, and learn more about our Islands unique marine megafauna in the palm of their hand”, continues Kenickie.
“For environmental projects such as this, high quality on going field research is an incredibly important tool and the data collected, helps local researchers such as our team to maintain an understanding of the current demographics of our bone sharks, who and where have the sharks been and how long are they here for. When we can understand why these sharks come to the Island, their behaviours and what they do here, we can do more to better protect them and help identify management objectives to ensure that the world biggest fish remains safe”.
The app allows the user to also keep up with all recent shark encounters found, learn more about the individuals that the user has submitted via their own user portal and or others that have been found, displays of an island map to discover the teams research and sighting hotspots of the season, document behaviour observers and injuries and using their uploaded ID photo of the sharks, help to identify any sharks, possibly new to science or those that have returned back to the Island.
Through this input, the Marine team can review and monitor all encounter data submitted via the main app portal to help inform the research conducted and directly support the well-being of our visiting shark population.
For more information about the work of St Helena National Trust visit their website.
Diving Mauritius in 2022
Mauritius, a dive destination in the heart of the Indian Ocean
Britain is, hopefully, winning the battle against COVID, and Mauritius is waiting with open arms to welcome divers from the UK to enjoy our magnificent Indian Ocean reefs. After the dramatic crash landing of the 300 metre bulk carrier ship Wakashio the island is fully restored to its pristine glory.
From the moment you arrive, you are among friends. English, French and Creole speaking, Mauritius has the best of many cultures. British, since from 1815 until 1965 Mauritius was administered by Britain, who took over from the French so the French flair and culture has remained, and the gentle influence of the dominant Hindu religion creates a harmony that makes it a wonderful, serene place to live. I wake up every morning to the scent of frangipanni outside my window, and walk down to the beach with my dogs, where we swim in the palm fringed lagoon. The air is clean and fragrant, with a whiff of cinnamon, a breath of curry and a hint of expensive sunblock.
You check in, and its time to explore. There is a wonderful site called https://bryandiscoversworld.com/blogs/ that will show you around Mauritius, so you can plan after diving activities.
Then its time to go to the dive centre, which is 800 metres from my house. We meet at 8.30, so I have plenty of time for breakfast. The dive centre is clean, well equipped and hospitable, with a coffee shop on the premises that serves food as well. Most diving centres in Mauritius are similar.
We are greeted at the front desk by a knowledgeable young woman who asks us to complete a qualification and health questionnaire. Mauritius diving centres like to be sure they provide the most appropriate service. If you travel alone and need a buddy, they will provide one. If you are nervous after a long break, they will gently assist you through a lagoon refresher session. If you want strong currents and drifts they will make sure these are part of the planning for your visit. Best of all, Mauritians love to dive, and it shows in their passion to show you their fabulous undersea world.
Diving in the North is year-round, with excellent visibility, plentiful variety and easy boat access. Many of the macro reefs are within five minutes from shore. But the best diving and most pristine reefs are to be found on the Norther off-shore islands. We dive with sharks in circling washing machine waters in cathedral- like hollowed out caves.
We dive on Djabeda, a coral encrusted wreck that was deliberately sunk and lies at 30 metres. Or the Silverstar, and advanced dive at 40 metres, where batfish shoals hang out.
We dive the spectacular drop offs on Coin de Mire Island, where sea fans and butterfly fishes abound. Rays and turtles, huge shoals of fusiliers, blue banded snappers and glow fish blend with white and yellow goatfish on many of the reefs.
We dive a reef 3 minutes from the dive centre where morays are plentiful, and there are at least 11 species on one of the reefs, some un-described. Look out for the beautiful lionfish and scorpionfish, there are some species here that are very rare indeed.
The West coast has an abundance of rays dolphins and whales, but care has to be take if you want to book diving there. The bulk of the Mauritius rivers drain into the ocean on the West coast and visibility can be poor to very poor.
The East and South coasts also offer excellent diving, but again, care has to be taken with booking dive packages as tide, wind and weather can be a prohibiting factor.
Most dive boats are comfortable, and all are registered and licensed with the Mauritian Tourism Authority, so there are few cowboys, and every dive centre must show its credentials on its walls.
This is the best time to book diving in Mauritius, where a wealthy First World environment meets Third World pricing for dives. The Mauritian diving industry is way behind the curve and has not yet registered that paying £150 for a 10-dive standard package is way lower than the norm for first class boat diving. Accommodation prices vary from £20 a night for a registered basic studio apartment, to £ 100 plus a night for 4- and 5-star resorts, all within easy distance of the dive centres. Its worth noting that apartments are booked by the room and can in some cases sleep up to 3 people.
You need a vaccination card, and a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding. Flights are around 11 hours, and subsidized by the Mauritian government so shop around.
Words: Jill Holloway
Copyright Ocean Spirit Ltd
Images by Chris Sleap and Gunter Haag