"Million-Dollar Reef Sharks" More Valuable Alive Than Dead

reef shark eating photo

Photo by Joi via Flickr CC

To any environmentalist, to say that sharks are worth more alive than dead is stating the obvious. But researchers have made that a quantifiable statement, showing that each individual reef shark contributes as much as $2 million to a coastal community over it's lifetime. According to a new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia, "A single reef shark can contribute almost US$2 million in its lifetime to the economy of Palau... The analysis quantified the economic benefits of the shark-diving industry to the Pacific island nation and found that its value far exceeded that of shark fishing," reports Pew Environment.

Somewhere in the range of 75 million sharks are killed every year for their fins (a best estimate since many finnings go unreported), which can bring a hefty price on the market for shark fin soups and medicines -- though there is practically no flavor or nutritional value to the fins, nor is there any medicinal value to speak of. Because the demand is so high, sharks are killed at an alarming rate, and the apex predators are slow to replenish their numbers. That's why it's important to show how much more valuable the sharks are alive to an economy.

"Sharks can literally be a 'million-dollar' species and a significant economic driver...our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target," said Mark Meekan, principal research scientist at AIMS.

The research conducted at Palau showed that an individual reef shark can contribute anywhere from $179,000 to $1.9 million over its lifetime, thanks to the draw from tourists and divers, as well as its vital role in maintaining a healthy reef ecosystem so other fish species can thrive. From the press release:

  • Shark diving brings approximately US$18 million annually to the Palauan economy, approximately eight percent of the country's gross domestic product;
  • The annual income in salaries paid by the shark-diving industry was an estimated US$1.2 million; and
  • The annual tax income to Palau generated by shark diving was approximately 14 percent of the country's business tax revenue.

Numbers like these most certainly weaken the argument that it is too expensive to enforce fishing bans on sharks. For countries whose economies depend on tourism, diving, and reef fishing, it is definitely in their best interest to protect sharks. And these numbers hammer that point home.

Palau has actually been an incredible leader in protecting marine wildlife. Just last year, the country dedicated a Mongolia-sized chunk of ocean to protecting marine mammals. And in 2009, Palau set up the world's first shark sanctuary of about 230,000 square miles.

"Shark tourism can be a viable economic engine," said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, which commissioned the research. "Overfishing of sharks can have disastrous effects on ocean ecosystems, but this study provides a compelling case that can convince more countries to embrace these animals for their benefit to the ocean and their value to a country's financial well-being."

A video from Pew Environment on million-dollar reef sharks can be viewed here.

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More on Sharks
Cocos Island's New Shark and Sea Turtle Refuge Is Bigger Than Yellowstone (Pics)
Congress Passes Shark Conservation Act
Scientists Track Origins of Shark Fins Using DNA "Zip Codes"

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