Shark diving more valuable than shark finning

Shark fin soup has a long history in Chinese culture as a culinary symbol of prosperity and success, so it’s not surprising the the country’s economic growth has led to an increase in the dish’s consumption… and the killing of up to 73 million sharks a year largely to serve this demand.

Fortunately, public awareness campaigns on the threats to worldwide shark populations seem to have helped: in Hong Kong, for instance, this delicacy is losing its status as a “must have” for celebratory meals. A new study by Australian Institute of Marine Science, though, may completely redefine the equation between shark meat and success, as they’ve found that living sharks may have much greater economic value than dead ones.

The study focused on the island country of Palau, “the Pacific Island nation that declared its waters a sanctuary free of shark fishing.” Yes, this is a good thing for the marine ecosystem in these waters, as sharks keep populations of other species in check; it turns out that this was also a really smart economic move for the country. Many divers go to Palau to swim with the sharks, and that tourist trade is much more valuable than fishing. How much so? The study estimates that a single shark creates $179,000 in annual value for the tourism industry; if it’s caught and butchered for shark fin soup, it’s worth about $108 (US values). Over a lifetime, a shark can be worth $2 million for tourism.

A no-brainer, right? Other countries seem to think so: the Maldives, Honduras, and even the US are recognizing that protecting sharks is much more valuable that fishing them.

Want to learn more? Check out the video above from the Pew Environmental Group… and let us know what you think. Should we put this kind of monetary value on wildlife? Or is it the smartest way to protect threatened species?

via National Geographic News Watch and @ranchocapp