Saving Sharks through Shark Tourism

save sharks shark tourism hammerhead

Photo courtesy of  Aggressor Galapagos

Saving sharks through shark tourism may sound like a contradiction of terms and certainly some tourists want to avoid sharks, think surfers and swimmers, but there is a select group of scuba divers that seek out sharks and will go to the ends of the earth to do so.  In honor of European Shark Week which runs Oct 15 – 23rd, this post is dedicated to saving sharks.

save sharks shark tourism divers

Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos. Fellow divers hanging out with a White-tip reef shark.

I met my husband on Cocos Island, the world’s largest uninhabited island located over 500km (~330 miles) from mainland Costa Rica.  Cocos is one of the few places in the world where hammerhead sharks school in large numbers.  The only way to reach Cocos is by a 30 hour boat ride and overnight visits are not permitted, so divers wanting to dive at Cocos must stay on a liveaboard.  Cocos is a national park and shark finning (the cruel practice of cutting of the shark fins, then throwing the rest of the shark in the water to drown or to be eaten alive, all for a bowl of shark fin soup) is illegal, but unfortunately is an all too common occurrence due to the lack of government funds to patrol the waters on a more frequent basis.  I am hopeful that one day Cocos waters and its sharks will be protected, if not by the government, then by the dive companies who operate there to create a sustainable shark tourism industry, as has happened at Wolf and Darwin Island in the Galapagos.

save sharks shark tourism hammerheads

Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos. A typical dive at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos with hundreds of hammerhead sharks. Spectacular!

Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos are also home to hundreds of schooling hammerheads, not to mention a variety of other shark species including Silkies, Galapagos sharks, and in summer, whale sharks.  On one dive alone I counted over 500 sharks!  The dive companies have come together and now have a patrol boat at Wolf and Darwin Islands to enforce the ban on shark finning.   The dive boat companies know that without the sharks there is no shark tourism, so it is more economical to pay for law enforcement and keep the sustainable shark tourism industry going for the long term.

save sharks shark tourism whale shark

Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos. Whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean, measuring up to 15 meters. We saw 4 alone on our Galapagos trip and 1 in Cocos. This guy has some damage, likely caused by a boat on his right gill.  Some people wait a lifetime for a glimpse of a whale shark.

Perhaps the best example of shark tourism in action is in the pacific island nation of Palau, which has created the world’s first shark sanctuary.  Studies conducted there show that a single reef shark brings in $1.9 million USD over its lifetime – and that’s just one shark.  Shark tourism alone brings in over $18 million USD to Palau, accounting for 8% of the nation’s GDP. See Priced Off the Menu? Palau’s Sharks Are Worth $1.9 Million Each for more info.

save sharks shark tourism whitetips

Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos. White tip sharks “the little guys”, but they can sure be aggressive when hunting at night! Fortunately they leave divers alone.

Besides the fact that I love diving with sharks, I went to Palau last year to show my support for the Shark Sanctuary – to put my money where my mouth is so to speak.  Shark tourism was also what brought me to Cocos and the Galapagos.  If I’m going to go way out of my way, endure long flights and an expensive trip, it has to be something really special – and for me that’s the privilege of diving with sharks in their natural habitat –  no cages and no bait.

On a volunteer marine conservation holiday in Scotland, I didn’t have the chance to dive with sharks, but we did discover a new place with over 50 basking sharks, the world’s second largest shark.  The scientist on board told us the information we collected would be used in making conservation recommendations to the government.

100,000 million sharks are killed every year for their fins from all over the world.  Saving sharks is a global issue and one that cannot be ignored without devastating consequences.


Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.


  1. Christopher October 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    How sad. And such beautiful creatures.

  2. Laurel October 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    @Christopher – It really is horrific, but hopefully will be thing of the past soon. Can you imagine if this was happening to panda bears? People wouldn’t stand for it. I think it’s tolerated because people are scared of sharks, even though they need not be 99.9% of the time.

    • Michaela October 18, 2011 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      You make a good point. There is a sort of fear that I feel of sharks even though they are beautiful. Maybe it is combined with apprehension of being underwater.

      Thanks for giving me another viewpoint at sharks. I would swim with sharks for a good cause! I have to try everything at least once.

  3. Sue October 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    Great educational posting. When we were in California recently people were fishing on the pier & they caught a shark (small little thing by shark standards) but we unfortunately watched it die. Saddened our family- and that was not just for fins!

  4. jade October 19, 2011 at 2:32 am - Reply

    As an animal lover through and through, projects like this are very dear to my heart. Thanks for highlighting such an important cause- and I’ll share with everyone I know! Thanks, Laurel.

  5. Joachim October 19, 2011 at 8:20 am - Reply

    About two weeks ago I heard a radio coverage about the effects of the improved financial situation of more and more people in china on sharks.

    Strange link, I thought at first, until it was made clear that Shark fin soup is still a popular item of Chinese cuisine. It’s costly, but more and more people can afford it.

    I remember a number (I have not checked) of 70 Million sharks per year end up in the fishing fleets.

    I remember the numer left me dazed. 70.000.000! Per year! Demand increasing!

    That’s one of the occasions you realize there may be intelligent individuals, but the human race on the whole acts completely insane.

    Back to the topic of sharks: I really hope NBA Star Yao Ming’s campaign to encourage consumers to stop consuming sharks fin soup has an effect.

  6. robin October 19, 2011 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Beautiful images and creatures – no wonder you have a passion for them.

  7. Frau Dietz October 19, 2011 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Fantastic post Laurel (I’ve signed!!). I am rather obsessed with sharks – in equal parts amazed and terrified. How can one not be in awe of a creature so perfect that it’s been around for millions and millions of years without really evolving?!! Eek.

  8. Laurel October 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    @Michaela – Yeah! So glad to hear you would try swimming with sharks, I was surprised at how relaxing it is – once you’re in the water.

    @Sue – That would be tough to see. Sharks give birth so infrequently, making them so vulnerable.

    @Jade – Thanks so much for spreading the word Jade. I don’t think a lot of people know how wide spread shark finning is and how not only cruel it is, but how it is devastating our shark populations.

    @Joachin – Thanks for your comment. It really worries me that if more people can afford it that the demand will only increase. I’ve even heard numbers upwards of 100 million sharks a year, which I agree, is such a high number, it’s almost unfathomable. I applaud NBA Star Yao Ming for taking a public stance against shark fin soup and hope other celebrities follow suite.

    @Robin – The first time I saw a hammerhead I was in such awe of it that I opened my mouth and swallowed a mouthful of sea water. They really are truly incredible creatures.

    @Frau Dietz – Yeah, thanks for signing and glad to hear I ‘m not the only one obsessed with sharks. I used to be terrified, but am now just completely in awe (OK I might be terrified if I ran into a great white). It’s hard to believe that they’re one of the oldest creatures on earth and have been around for 400 million years.

  9. Annie - FootTracker October 19, 2011 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Idea of swimming with sharks is a bit intimidating. But I know not every shark bites human instantly XD The whale shark in the photo looks beautiful, along with the hammer shark photo. ^_^ Hopefully programs like this will allow people to gain more understanding of the sharks we have in the ocean.

    • Michaela October 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      “But I know not every shark bites human instantly” – This just made me Laugh Out Loud! But, yes, those are great pictures. I get goosebumps just imagining swimming with the school of sharks. Very beautiful.

  10. Cheryl October 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    What a great idea. Glad that people are trying to something to stop the hunting.

    I admire your love of sharks and diving with them. I’m too scared to attempt that and am content to view them from afar in your blog … they are stunning though!

  11. Laurel October 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    @Annie – Your comment made me laugh. I’ve dove with hundreds of sharks and have never been bitten (fingers crossed). I hope that European Shark Week is a huge success as I don’t think a lot of people think “sharks” when they think of Europe.

    @Michaela – I loved Annie’s comment too! The photos were taken by the dive master on our trip to the Galapagos. I tried my hand at underwater photography but my pictures didn’t turn out anything like these ones did.

  12. The Travel Chica October 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Great information here. I met a professional wildlife photographer when I was scuba diving in Utila. He had been on shark dives there a few times and had some amazing photos.

  13. Claire October 23, 2011 at 12:19 am - Reply

    Great information. Love the pictures, beautiful.

  14. Wild Navigator October 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post and this shows very clearly how important tourism can be to support and be a tool for wildlife conservation. The examples that you have given in terms of revenue generations is the same to Tiger Tourism as well as Elephant Tourism in Africa. Its a sad world how these amazing species have a battle to survive for future generations. Keep up your good work and spread the Twitter Hashtag #CSTT (Conserve Species Through Travel).

    Wild Navigator

  15. Laurel October 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    @The Travel Chica – I love Utila, saw my first whale shark there. I’ve tried underwater photography but have decided it’s not my thing, although I love looking at underwater photos.

    @Claire – Thanks.

    @Wild Navigator – I agree it’s sad, but glad to see there are programs that are working well for tigers and elephants. It seems that when there is money to be made, there is a better chance of saving these incredible species.

    • Wild Navigator January 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      So true – there needs to be tools in wildlife tourism to save the very important factor that makes their business – (The species) survive for a sustainable future. If that goes, everything around it including human’s and our involvement’s will finish.

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